The Daily Briefing Thursday, January 11, 2018

AROUND THE NFL 

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

Frank Cignetti, who was QB JARED GOFF’s mentor at the Rams under Jeff Fisher, will now be tutoring QB AARON RODGERS.  He goes way back with Coach Mike McCarthy.

Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal:

 

Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy reached way back in his coaching history in hiring Frank Cignetti to become his quarterbacks coach.

 

The two were graduate assistant coaches under Mike Gottfried at the University of Pittsburgh in 1989 and coached together for a brief time with the New Orleans Saints (2000-01).

 

McCarthy chose Cignetti, 52, to replace Alex Van Pelt, who had his contract expire and decided to search for an offensive coordinator’s position. Cignetti will be Aaron Rodgers’ fifth quarterbacks coach over his 13-year career, proceeding Van Pelt, Ben McAdoo, Tom Clements and Darrell Bevell.

 

Cignetti coached in the college ranks at Fresno State (’02-05), North Carolina (’06), California (’08), Pittsburgh (’09-10) and Rutgers (’11), serving as offensive coordinator at every stop.

 

He was quarterbacks coach under Mike Nolan in San Francisco in 2007 and returned to the NFL for good in 2012, taking over as quarterbacks coach under Jeff Fisher. He was promoted to offensive coordinator in ’15, but then fired after 12 games with the Rams’ offense ranked 31st.

 

McAdoo then added him to the New York Giants’ coaching in 2016 to be his quarterbacks coach, where he served through this past season.

 

McCarthy has completed the reshuffling of his offensive staff.

 

He lost wide receivers coach Luke Getsy to Mississippi State, fired offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett and did not try to re-sign Van Pelt.

 

He has hired Joe Philbin to take on what is expected to be a coordinator-type position, hired Cignetti to replace Van Pelt and plucked wide receivers coach Jim Hostler from the Colts’ staff to replace Getsy.

 

 

MINNESOTA

Ian O’Connor of ESPN.com takes a long look at QB CASE KEENUM.  The whole thing is here.  Excerpt below:

 

The man in the ski cap and hoodie was staring through a window at the new purple banner announcing the Minnesota Vikings’ division crown. From behind, as he stood in a cafeteria, this average-size Joe could have passed for a food-service worker or a fan who had won a contest for a tour of the team facility. Case Keenum does not look like a quarterback drafted by an NFL team for a damn good reason: He wasn’t.

 

It was a Tuesday, the players’ off day following their division-clinching beatdown of the Cincinnati Bengals in mid-December, and an operations crew had just hung the banner in the rafters two minutes earlier. Keenum doesn’t believe in off days, so he was the first to see this tribute to the 2017 NFC North champs — the last of its kind to hang over the indoor practice field in the Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie, ID’d on the street corner by a tattered Viking ship encased in snow and ice. The team will pack everything later this winter and move to upgraded digs in Eagan, about 20 miles to the east. Nobody is sure whether Keenum will be along for the ride.

 

And that’s fine and dandy for now. Keenum is not thinking about free agency — whether he might head to another franchise in a package deal with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, or if Minnesota could still prefer the returning Sam Bradford and/or the returned Teddy Bridgewater as its 2018 starter. Short term? Keenum is thinking about beating the New Orleans Saints in Sunday’s divisional round matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium. Not-so-short term? Keenum is thinking about becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to lead a team onto its own field with a chance to win the Super Bowl.

 

“I don’t think anybody wants to be sitting here in February and watch somebody else play in it,” Keenum said. He retreated a bit from that statement, swearing that the team wasn’t looking ahead at a magical shot to earn the franchise’s first Super Bowl championship, in its own building, after four losses in the big game and no appearances since the 1976 season. Keenum apologized for the cliché, but said the Vikings were taking it day by day. If there’s anyone who knows that NFL life is a day-to-day proposition, it’s the quarterback of the NFC’s No. 2 seed.

 

Keenum’s striped gray ski cap was pulled tight over his hair and ears and down to his eyebrows, making him appropriately hard to recognize. He’s the improbable leader of a faceless contender, and maybe he represents the look and the formula that will finally deliver these earnest Minnesotans their long, lost ring. The Vikings have had Hall of Fame quarterbacks, quarterbacks who won Super Bowls for other franchises and former top overall draft picks.

 

But the Vikings have never had a quarterback quite like Casey Austin Keenum — undrafted, unwanted, un-everything — who led them to a 13-3 record as the second-most accurate passer in the league (67.6 percent). Of the quarterbacks starting playoff games this season, Keenum had the best regular-season Total QBR at 69.6 — second only to the now-injured Carson Wentz’s 75.7, and better than Tom Brady’s 67.2. Football Outsiders ranked Keenum ahead of Brady as the NFL’s top quarterback in 2017 in DVOA, a metric that measures a player’s value per snap over an average player at his position.

 

Not bad for a former Houston Texans practice-squad arm and deposed Los Angeles Rams starter who arrived in March with a 9-15 career record and an upside the Vikings thought was worth a mere one-year deal for a lousy $2 million plus incentives. But this staggering run comes as no surprise to Keenum or to his supporters, who were just as confused when he had just one Division I offer out of high school as they were when he went undrafted in 2012. Keenum is not driven to prove the doubters wrong half as much as he’s driven to prove those true believers right.

 

The believers are multiplying by the week. Keenum has already made himself a lot of money this season, no matter what happens against the Saints on Sunday — people up and down the Vikings’ organization would concede that much, even if some would rather not pay up. An executive from another team who has watched six recent game films of Keenum predicted some franchise will offer him $20 million a year, and that the quarterback would likely leave the Vikings if they offer him $15 million a pop.

 

“He’s playing at a Pro Bowl level,” the executive said. “He’s put himself in the same conversation as Kirk Cousins. His film is excellent. He’s got a live arm, accurate, accurate on three levels, good mobility, tough, smart. I didn’t give him a good grade out of college, but his tape this year is outstanding. He’s playing like a real quarterback — a borderline franchise guy — not a journeyman. You watch six games this year and you say, ‘Holy s—, look how good Case Keenum is.”

– – –

Keenum started for Sandifer’s (Wylie H.S.) varsity team as a sophomore and led the Bulldogs to the Class 3A Division I state title game as a junior in 2004. Down a touchdown in the fourth quarter to a favored 14-0 Cuero High School, Keenum found his tight end, Josh Archer, for the tying score, then made the signature play of his Wylie career: On third-and-11 at the Cuero 48-yard line with less than a minute to play, Keenum escaped pressure and ran 39 yards to set up the game-winning field goal. “If I had been able to hold my block better, he would’ve made it all the way in,” Archer said. Wylie football had never won a state title until Keenum showed up, and hasn’t won another since.

 

Keenum lost his chance at a second championship as a senior while playing his final game in Texas Stadium, which was still home to the Dallas Cowboys. He threw for a touchdown and ran for two more in the quarterfinals, including a 38-yarder punctuated by a prototypical Keenum dive and, unfortunately, an injured right shoulder. Sandifer wanted to take Keenum out of the game, but the quarterback wouldn’t allow it. Down 25-22 on the last possession, Keenum heaved a 50-yard pass into the end zone that was dropped. They learned after that Keenum had unloaded the pass with a separated shoulder.

 

The big-time schools still didn’t want him. Sandifer has been at Wylie 39 years (32 as head coach), and Keenum’s is a recruiting mystery the coach still can’t solve. Sandifer told coaches all about Keenum’s crazy numbers and relentless heart, but they couldn’t get past the fact Keenum was only 6-1. “They kept talking about height and arm strength, and some of them would bring up speed,” Sandifer said. “My response was always: ‘I don’t know what the 40 times are of the guys chasing him, but he’s always a half-step ahead of them.'” Art Briles of the University of Houston was the only Division I coach to offer Keenum a full ride.

 

Kevin Sumlin came in after Briles left for Baylor and installed a freewheeling, no-huddling offense that made Keenum the point guard on a perpetual fast break. He loved it — he had complete control of the offense and the authority to check to whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. He tore up his knee in what would have been his senior season, then returned on a redshirt in 2011 to throw 48 touchdown passes and just five interceptions while clearing 5,600 yards for the second time. Houston went 12-1, beat Penn State in a bowl game and then waited for Keenum, the most prolific passer in major college history, to get drafted. He finished his career with a record 155 touchdown passes and 19,217 passing yards — more than 2,000 yards better than the second-place quarterback on the FBS all-time list, Hawaii’s Timmy Chang.

 

Keenum figured some team might pick him in the middle or late rounds. He didn’t arrange for a lavish party. He watched the later part of the draft at a cousin’s house, and wasn’t terribly disappointed when his name wasn’t called. Like his parents and two sisters, Keenum was active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and thought God had a plan for him. “You take a look back at some tough parts of your life,” Keenum said, “just bad things that have happened, they tend to build your character and make you who you are.”

 

Then-Texans coach Gary Kubiak liked Keenum, signed him and gave him a chance to make it in the league. Keenum had so much to learn about running a conventional NFL offense, getting under center and playing with an actual tight end. He got his big break in 2013 when Matt Schaub coughed up a dizzying series of pick-sixes, and Keenum responded by throwing for seven touchdowns and 822 yards without an interception in his first three games. Problem was, Houston failed to win any of those games. Keenum’s production fell off, and before he knew it, he had lost his first eight NFL starts.

 

“It affected me,” he said. “It didn’t stop me. … It beat me down physically, mentally. I wasn’t used to losing, and I took a lot of that on myself. I think that’s why I play quarterback. You get the ball in your hands and you make decisions every play. And to not be successful like that was really hard, really frustrating. And it took some time to learn from that.”

 

Keenum lived in a Minneapolis suburb with his wife Kimberly, who grew up with Case in Abilene. They attended the same church, and Susan Keenum was Kimberly’s fifth-grade phys ed teacher. They saw each other at track meets and FCA events, and one day in his junior year of high school, Case asked the senior, Kimberly, to get a snow cone. They’ve been together ever since.

 

But the 0-8 start to Keenum’s career tested what had been a charmed existence. The quarterback was bringing his workplace struggles home with him. “I was burning the candle at both ends that year,” Case said. “I would go in early and I would stay late, and all I thought about was football. You can’t win like that. You can’t live like that. My wife is incredible and we have a great relationship, but our relationship suffered. Not between us, but just because of the stress. You’re not a healthy person when you’re worrying that much. So that was one of the things I learned. This game, you can put everything you can into it, but that’s all you can put into it. If you try to do more, sometimes it ends up being less.”

 

Keenum was waived by the Texans, signed and waived by the Rams and then re-signed by Houston off the Rams’ practice squad. He claimed his first career victories against Baltimore and Jacksonville at the end of the 2014 season, then was traded back to the Rams for a seventh-round pick in 2015. He suffered a concussion against the Ravens that season that exposed the flaws of the league’s protocol when he was never removed from the field; he recovered to win three of his final four games and lock down the starting job for the franchise’s first season back in Los Angeles in 2016. He knew he was keeping the position warm until Jared Goff was ready to go. And after nine games (four of them victories), Jeff Fisher gave the No. 1 overall pick the ball.

 

Minnesota knew Keenum could play a little bit — he did complete a Rams record 19 consecutive passes, throwing for 321 yards and three touchdowns in a lost shootout with Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. But Minnesota had no idea Keenum would become one of the league’s more valuable players after starting the season without Bridgewater, then losing Bradford in Week 2. The Vikings had no idea that the obstacles their new quarterback had to overcome, in Keenum’s words, “made me into a tough SOB.”

 

Adam Thielen might be the teammate most qualified to define Keenum’s hunger. As an undrafted Division II player out of Minnesota State-Mankato, Thielen had an even tougher road to navigate to the NFL than Keenum’s. The Pro Bowl receiver doesn’t discount the possibility that their seemingly symbiotic bond is rooted in their shared backstory, though he guesses he has a better explanation for their success as first-time teammates.

 

“I think honestly what makes our connection good is we don’t really care what people think about us,” Thielen said. “We just want to go out there and help the team win.”

 

Thielen moved the conversation back to Keenum’s work ethic. “He’s not just showing up at 6 a.m. just to be here. He’s got a plan. He knows the defense before we play them, and he knows the game plan better than anyone I’ve ever been around. … Maybe even better than some of the coaches.”

 

It has grown increasingly difficult to discredit Keenum. A division champ at 29, he has moved beyond the phase of his career his old man described as, “Would you hurry up and fail so we can turn to someone else?” He’s going to be a no-questions-asked first-stringer somewhere in 2018, and he’s going to get paid. The exec who thought Keenum would get $20 million a year said he would still slightly prefer Cousins running his team, but all things being equal, he would take Keenum over Eli Manning if the New York Giants made their longtime starter available.

– – –

It’s a hell of a story with a credible chance to get much better. Can Keenum become the next Kurt Warner, another undrafted star to win it all? Can he actually become the first Super Bowl champ crowned in his team’s own building?

 

“It would be a fairy tale kind of thing,” his father said.

 

Even if that fairy tale ends on the first Sunday in February, in Super Bowl LII, before Keenum potentially leaves to play for another team. It’s hard to believe this blissful marriage of player and market will be reduced to a one-and-done by money, but the NFL is a business, and oftentimes a cold one.

 

Keenum wants to win a title now, and worry about his future employment later. He said the Vikings are “confident [they] can beat everybody,” and there isn’t a man in his locker room who would argue that the quarterback hasn’t inspired that faith. He arrived in Minnesota with a losing record and a losing contract, and he made a head-first dive into a brand-new day.

 

Anything can happen in the playoffs, and nothing is guaranteed in Minneapolis — or in free agency. But you can take this to the U.S. Bank: If the Vikings fail, it won’t be because their quarterback was afraid to succeed.

 

NFC EAST

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

The AP with the latest interview for the Giants – a guy who just got fired as an assistant:

 

The New York Giants have seemingly wrapped up their first round of interviews for a new coach.

 

The Giants talked to former Denver Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville on Wednesday. The 50-year-old was supposed to meet with the Giants last week, but his interview on Thursday was postponed by a snowstorm.

 

Studesville met with co-owner John Mara, new general manager Dave Gettleman, and assistant general manager Kevin Abrams at the franchise’s headquarters. He has 21 years of NFL coaching experience, including three seasons with the Giants (2001-03) as a running backs coach.

 

The Giants (3-13) interviewed six candidates in their search to replace the fired Ben McAdoo.

 

Interim coach Steve Spagnuolo, who posted a 1-3 record after replacing McAdoo, kicked off the process a week ago. New York also spoke with New England coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia, Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur and Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.

 

McDaniels, Shurmur and Spagnuolo all have head coaching experience. Studesville was 1-3 as the Broncos’ interim head coach after McDaniels was fired in 2010.

 

There are no immediate plans to interview anyone else for the job, but that could change if someone else emerged.

 

Studesville spent the past eight years in Denver. He was fired at the end of this past season. He has also worked for the Bears and Bills.

 

The Studesville interview would not be to make the Giants compliant with the Rooney Rule as that NFL obligation was satisfied by the interview of Wilks.

 

Not on the list is a very, very prominent coach whom Bruce Arians claims “covets” the job.  Tom Schad of USA TODAY:

 

Citing the profile of the team during their childhood, former Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Tuesday that Alabama coach Nick Saban “covets” the New York Giants coaching job.

 

Arians said in an interview with Fox Sports that “it would not surprise me” if Saban sought to return to the NFL, then said that Saban has interest in one particular job.

 

“There’s a job he covets. It just happens to be open,” Arians said. “But he’s got a dynasty right now, another dynamite recruiting class — why he would do it, I don’t know. But it would not shock me if he did.”

 

After clarifying that the job in question was the Giants, Arians was asked why Saban would want that particular position.

 

“Because they’re the New York Giants. When we grew up, they were the thing,” Arians said.

 

On Wednesday, Fox Sports’ Jay Glazer said Arians told him that he was not being sincere with his claim.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Bruce Arians is hoping for an in-house promotion to succeed him.  Jeremy Cuff of the Arizona Republic:

 

Bruce Arians has thrown his support behind a candidate in the Arizona Cardinals’ search for his replacement as head coach.

 

His former defensive coordinator, James Bettcher.

 

Arians, who retired as Cardinals’ coach on Jan. 1, told The Rich Eisen Show on Tuesday that Bettcher deserves a chance to coach the Cardinals.

 

 “I would love to see James Bettcher get the job,” said Arians, who added that Bettcher is “more than qualified” for the position.

 

“He’s ready to be a head coach anywhere,” Arians said.

 

Bettcher, 39, was promoted to the defensive coordinator job from outside linebackers coach three years ago.

 

His Cardinals defenses finished in the top six in yards allowed in all three years as defensive coordinator and were the strength of the team in 2016 and 2017.

 

He was the first to interview for the job and appears to be the only member of Arians’ staff who will interview for the job.

 

 

SEATTLE

The shakeup in Seattle, which has already booted OC Darrell Bevall, has also claimed OL coach Tom Cable (as reported by Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times) and may claim DC Kris Richard. Richard seems to be moving on, perhaps up, but in any case on. Kevin Skiver of CBSSports.com:

 

In addition to letting offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell go on Wednesday, it appears that the Seahawks will have even more turnover. According to Dave Mahler and Ian Rapoport, the Seahawks also are letting defensive coordinator Kris Richard out of his contract. Per Rapoport, the Seahawks are letting Richard pursue “another opportunity,” although it’s unclear what that opportunity is.

 

Ian Rapoport

@RapSheet

More change coming for the #Seahawks: DC Kris Richard would be allowed out of his contract for another opportunity, sources say. He’s had a long relationship with Pete Carroll, who believes Richard would benefit from experiencing something new. Could have OC & DC openings.

 

@Softykjr

Here’s what I’m hearing: Not just Bevell. Per sources: Kris Richard also out as DC, QB’s coach Carl Smith leaving as well.

 

Richard has a long history with Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, dating back to Carroll’s USC days, when he was a graduate assistant. Richard followed Carroll to the Seahawks, ultimately becoming the defensive coordinator in 2015 when former DC Dan Quinn went to become the head coach of the Falcons. If Richard’s opportunity is a head-coaching gig, he would be following in the footsteps of Quinn and Gus Bradley as Seahawks’ DCs to become head coaches. Bradley’s stint as Jaguars’ head coach was relatively unsuccessful, and he’s currently the defensive coordinator for the Chargers.

 

Richard reportedly interviewed with the Colts for a head-coaching job on Friday. This is coming off of three seasons as Seahawks’ DC, during which the Seahawks ranked second, fifth and 11th in total defense. The Seahawks are coming off of a disappointing season, in which they missed the playoffs by one game in an incredibly deep NFC.

 

Should Richard go to the Colts, he would be taking over Chuck Pagano’s old post. The Colts ranked 30th in total defense in 2017. Since the nature of Richards’ move is unclear, there’s no way to say for sure he’s going to the Colts, but it’s hard to imagine Richard leaving Carroll’s side for another coordinator position.

 

With the offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and QBs coaches now reportedly gone, the Seahawks are experiencing a lot of turnover. It could be a very different team heading into 2018 — although the Cover 3 philosophy of the defense is unlikely to change.

 

So Pete Carroll, along with Mike McCarthy, gets to stay even as someone decides that all of the key coaches he presumably hired have to go. 

 

Thoughts on Cable’s departure from Andy Patton of Seahawks Wire:

 

Removing quarterback Russell Wilson from the equation, Seattle’s running game was unsightly last season. They only had one rushing touchdown –  from backup, J.D McKissic. Only two players, Mike Davis and Chris Carson, rushed for more than 200 yards on the year. Davis played in just six games and Carson in four, thanks to an injury that held him out for most of the year.

 

The preseason expectations centered around Seattle’s “three-headed monster” of running backs Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls and CJ Prosise. Many expected Seattle’s run game to thrive with the variety of options those three represented.

 

Injuries, ineffectiveness and a poor offensive line led to the big three combining for just 359 total yards on the ground. For reference . . . that is 227 fewer yards than Wilson rushed for on his own.

 

The running backs struggled in part because of an offensive line that never seemed to get into a rhythm. Eight different players started on the line last season, with only Germain Ifedi and Justin Britt starting all 16 contests.

 

Rookie Ethan Pocic and Luke Joeckel each started 11 games, with midseason acquisition Duane Brown starting nine.

 

Ultimately, the Seahawks have made an effort to bring in young, talented offensive linemen. They have drafted 16 of them since 2010, the highest mark in the NFL. The inability to develop those players into high-quality NFL starters is likely a big reason for Cable’s dismissal.

 

Pete Carroll hinted at things to come in his season-ending press conference last week.

 

“I think you see tremendous examples around the league of teams who have turned their fortunes around [by] running the football,” Carroll said. “Teams playing good defense and doing the kicking game thing. That is the formula that has proven historically the best in this game. We have been committed to that from the start but unfortunately we have not been able to recapture it the way that we have in years past.”

 

The Seahawks will work to recapture that formula with a different coaching staff heading into 2018.

 

AFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

The Chargers missed a lot of kicks this year – and none were missed by PK ROBERTO AGUAYO.  That could change in 2018.  Sean Wagner-McGough of CBSSports.com:

 

It’s a new year, but the Los Angeles Chargers are still stuck being the Los Angeles Chargers. On Wednesday, the Chargers made the most Chargers move ever by bringing in a kicker who struggles at putting the ball through the uprights to fix their already awful kicking situation. As first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Chargers have signed Roberto Aguayo.

 

No, this isn’t an “Onion” story. This is real. The Chargers confirmed the move.

 

You probably remember Aguayo. In 2016, the Buccaneers traded up in the second round of the draft to select Aguayo out of Florida State. Predictably, it ended up being an unmitigated disaster. In 2016, Aguayo connected on only 71 percent of his field goals. So, before the 2017 season, the Buccaneers brought in competition for Aguayo in the form of Nick Folk. Aguayo ended up losing the job to Folk. The Buccaneers cut him in August. Aguayo bounced around the league this year, spending time with the Bears and the Panthers, but he never made it onto the field for an actual kick.

 

Meanwhile, as Aguayo spent the year on the sidelines, the Chargers endured yet another brutal kicking year. They went through four kickers — Nick Novak, Travis Coons, Younghoe Koo, and Nick Rose — and as a team, they finished with the league’s lowest field goal percentage (66.7 percent). So, in that sense, Aguayo and the Chargers appear to be a perfect fit.

 

Scott Kacsmar

@FO_ScottKacsmar

Roberto Aguayo trying his hand at Chargers BINGO? That’s too good. A match made in hell.

In all seriousness, there’s no harm in bringing in Aguayo at this point in the offseason. Aguayo experienced a stellar college career, during which he made 88.5 percent of his field goals, so he definitely has talent. Maybe L.A. will finally be the place where Aguayo finally manifests that talent. And if not — if Aguayo struggles during training camp and the preseason — then the Chargers can cut him.

 

But the Chargers should, of course, be looking to upgrade their kicking situation in other ways. They have the overall talent to be a playoff-caliber team, but their kicking situation cost them a playoff spot in 2017. Considering Philip Rivers’ age (36), the Chargers can’t afford to let inconsistent kicking continue to waste away their talent.

 

AFC NORTH

 

CLEVELAND

John Dorsey hires Eliot Wolf after the latter is spurned in the Packers GM search.  Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

 

The Browns beat the Raiders on Wednesday — for the services of highly sought-after personnel executive Eliot Wolf.

 

So after a winless season, they’ve already achieved a significant offseason victory.

 

New GM John Dorsey lured Wolf, 35, to the Browns, naming him assistant GM. Wolf had an interview lined up with the Raiders on Thursday for a high-level position under GM Reggie McKenzie, but he opted to join the Browns instead. He was passed over on Monday for the Packers GM job.

 

It’s a good sign for the Dorsey regime, and his close working relationship with Wolf and Wolf’s father, Ron, the former Packers Hall of Fame exec, probably also helped.

 

Dorsey has also hired former Packers exec Alonzo Highsmith as a vice president in the personnel department. He’s now surrounded by scouts he feels comfortable with, and two of the most-highly regarded personnel men in the business.

 

Like Dorsey, Wolf received a four-year contract, according to multiple reports.

 

Although the Browns’ personnel department is getting crowded, Vice President of Player Personnel Andrew Berry and Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta are expected to remain in their current roles.

 

But Wolf’s title trumps that of Berry and fellow Vice President of Player Personnel Ken Kovash, who hails from the analytics side. More changes will likely come in the personnel department after the draft.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

CB ARTIE BURNS has a previously unknown knee injury.  Joe Rutter in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

 

Cornerback Artie Burns was among four players who showed up on the first injury report of the week for the Steelers. Burns was listed as a limited participant Wednesday with a knee injury.

 

If the injury is serious, Burns could be replaced in the lineup by rookie Cam Sutton when the Steelers play the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday in an AFC divisional playoff game. The Steelers have two more practices this week in advance of the game.

 

When cornerback Joe Haden fractured his fibula in November, veteran Coty Sensabaugh made four starts at cornerback. Sutton replaced Sensabaugh in the Dec. 17 matchup against the New England Patriots.

 

“We have all played throughout the season,” Haden said. “Cam has gotten a lot of reps in games during the season — meaningful games. Same thing with Coty. Coty’s a vet and has been in the game for a while, so I feel like we have depth (because of) playing time, so I think all the corners and everybody are willing to rep and play.”

 

Also on the injury report Wednesday were center/guard B.J. Finney (thigh), defensive end Stephon Tuitt (elbow) and wide receiver Antonio Brown (calf).

 

AFC SOUTH

 

INDIANAPOLIS

Can the Colts fan base possibly get excited if the team hires a college coach coming off a 1-10 season?  That could be the upcoming test of their loyalty.  Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com got the Texas-based scoop:

 

The Colts have a surprise — previously unreported — name on their list of head coaching candidates. Indianapolis interviewed Baylor head coach Matt Rhule earlier this week, Adam Rittenberg of ESPN reports.

 

Rhule, 42, went 1-11 in his first season at Baylor.

 

He is 29-34 in five seasons as a college head coach but became a hot name in the coaching ranks after turning around Temple. The Owls were 2-10 his first season before posting 10-win seasons in 2015 and ’16.

 

Rhule spent the 2012 season in the NFL as the Giants offensive line coach.

 

The Colts, seeking a replacement for Chuck Pagano, also reportedly have interviewed Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, former Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard, Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub, Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel.

 

More from Mac Engel of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram:

 

Matt Rhule prayed long and hard before he left Temple University for Baylor University, and after one year in Waco he’s decided that’s enough.

 

Baylor, don’t blame him for looking to go.

 

Per a report from ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg, the Indianapolis Colts interviewed Rhule last week for their head coaching vacancy.

 

When Baylor officially hired Rhule to replace Jim Grobe, and Art Briles, as the full-time head coach on Dec. 7, 2016, I wrote, “Landing the former Temple football coach is a major get for Baylor, but this feels like a temporary hire.

 

“Although he spent just one year as an NFL assistant with the New York Giants, he credits Tom Coughlin as having the most influence on his career. Rhule just has the look of an NFL guy who is climbing the ladder in college; Baylor best enjoy this charismatic man while it can.”

 

Rhule would have been a fool not to take the interview, and a bigger dummy not to take the job should Colts owner Jim Irsay make him an offer.

 

The first-year Baylor coach isn’t necessarily a fraud as much as he an opportunist, a realist, and another college coach. Rhule took on one of the harder jobs in Power 5 football not named Kansas when he signed a seven-year deal to coach the Bears.

 

Baylor has a lot to offer recruits, but he is still competing against Texas A&M, Texas, TCU, not to mention Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, and whomever Alabama wants in his region.

 

He’s not coaching Ohio State, Penn State, Oklahoma or Alabama. He potentially could leave Baylor for an NFL head coaching job. That’s Greek for, “BYE.”

 

NFL jobs call only every so often, and you don’t turn them down. Especially a team that expects to have a healthy Andrew Luck coming back in 2018, and has the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.

 

The NFL is where he wants to be. Rhule was the New York Giants offensive line coach in 2012, and he went to Temple the following year.

 

Coaches who post consecutive 10-win seasons at Temple, such as Rhule did in 2015 and 2016, are hard to miss.

 

With a depleted and young roster left from the rape scandal that engulfed the school, Rhule and Baylor finished 1-11 in his first season in Waco.

 

Rhule most certainly told everyone in and around the program that he is there for forever. They all say that, and five minutes later are out the door.

 

Does that make Rhule a liar? No. It’s the profession. Of course Rhule thinks he’s going to be at Baylor forever, in that moment.

 

Even if Rhule is not offered the Colts’ job, Baylor now knows firmly where it stands with its head football coach. The Bears are but a stop on his way to the NFL.

 

 

TENNESSEE

Some trash talk from Titans S KEITH BYARD.  Jason Wolf in The Tennessean:

 

Blake Bortles continues to serve as a punching bag in the Titans’ locker room as Tennessee trains to take on Goliath.

 

Titans All-Pro safety Kevin Byard said neither he nor his teammates are intimidated by Tom Brady and the top-seeded, five-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, whom they face in an AFC divisional round playoff game Saturday night at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. And in discounting any aura surrounding New England, Byard took the latest shot at the AFC South rival Jaguars.

 

 “It’s a playoff game, so it’s not like it’s the preseason where I can go out there, ‘Oh, it’s Brady,’ and I’m chillin,’” Byard said after practice Tuesday. “This is a playoff game. So I don’t really care if it was Joe Montana. You know what I’m saying? I’m trying to go out there and win the game. I want to make him look like Blake Bortles if I can and try to catch a couple picks.

 

“Tom Brady is a great quarterback, but it’s a playoff game. I’m not really looking at it like that.”

 

Byard, who led the NFL with eight interceptions this season, picked off Bortles twice in the Titans’ 15-10 victory against the Jaguars in the regular-season finale, which clinched a second consecutive winning season and the franchise’s first playoff berth in nine years. It also finished a season sweep of the AFC South champion Jaguars, who play the Steelers in the other AFC divisional game Sunday in Pittsburgh.

 

The Titans are loose, confident and their attitude could continue to serve them well against the Patriots. They are 14-point underdogs, just days after pulling off one of the largest road comebacks in playoff history, rallying from a 21-3 deficit to defeat the Chiefs 22-21 in a wild card game Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium.

 

Titans Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan said the underdog role is nothing new.

 

 “It’s standard, dude. It’s standard. Like pickles on a sandwich,” Lewan said. “That thing just comes all the time. So it is what it is. We’ve just got to focus on what’s important, and that’s these guys in this locker room. It’s 11 guys on the field at a time and making sure that our 11 plays better than their 11.”

 

The Titans play a physical brand of football and have developed a history of winning games when they’re able to keep the score close.

 

Tennessee has a 7-4 record in one-possession games this season and has lost by more than 10 points just twice. They’re 9-2 since last season in games decided by four points or fewer.

 

“I think they know now that we can win in a playoff situation,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “Jacksonville, to me, was as close to a playoff atmosphere that possibly can be. That’s two games that we’ve had to win and our guys have found ways to win them. I think we still have work to do, there’s no question about that, in all three phases. I think it gives us some confidence — I hope it does, it should — that we can win, and win anywhere against anybody, anytime.”

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

A stat that shows the enormity of Bill Belichick’s accomplishments.  Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk.com:

 

When Patriots coach Bill Belichick takes his spot on the sideline on Saturday night against the Titans, he will have done something no head coach has ever done before: Coach his team in 37 postseason games.

 

Saturday’s game is Belichick’s 37th in the postseason, breaking a record he currently shares with two other coaches, Tom Landry and Don Shula.

 

Belichick is 26-10 in postseason games, giving him the most wins in NFL history by six over Landry. Belichick went 1-1 with the Browns in the playoffs and is now 25-9 with the Patriots. So every postseason game Belichick coaches and wins from here on out is adding to his own records.

 

Belichick is also the only coach in NFL history to win postseason games in six consecutive years, and he can increase that streak to seven with a win on Saturday. The current Patriots and the 1991-96 Cowboys are the only teams in NFL history to win games in six straight postseasons, but the Cowboys did it with two different coaches during that stretch, Jimmy Johnson from 1991 to 1993 and Barry Switzer from 1994 to 1996.

 

The Patriots franchise had just seven postseason wins in its history before Belichick became the head coach, but New England is now up to 32. Only the Steelers with 36 and the Cowboys and Packers with 34 have more, and the Patriots would move into second place with 35 if they win the Super Bowl.

 

As many games as he has coached, Belichick is not all that high on the Most Postseason Losses list:

 

Don Shula†                             17       

Tom Landry†                           16       

Andy Reid                               13

Marty Schottenheimer            13

Bud Grant†                             12                   

Mike Holmgren                        11       

Chuck Knox                            11       

Bill Belichick                            10       

Tony Dungy†                          10       

 

Now, remember you only add a number to this list by making the playoffs.  And you only add 1 per year at the most because you can’t lose more.  So that means Andy Reid now has taken 13 teams to the playoffs, that Dungy did it 11 times (10 losses + 1 Super Bowl win). 

– – –

Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com has this note on the age gap between Saturday’s quarterbacks:

 

Saturday night’s playoff game will be the battle of the ages.

 

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be 40 years, 163 days old on Saturday and Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota will be 24 years, 75 days old. That will make it the first time in NFL history that starting quarterbacks in a postseason game were more than 16 years apart.

 

The previous record for the largest age difference between playoff starting quarterbacks was 15 years, 166 days, when 37-year-old Steve DeBerg’s Chiefs beat 22-year-old Todd Marinovich’s Raiders in 1991.

 

Three other times there’s been a gap of at least 13 years between starting quarterbacks: Earl Morrall of the 1972 Dolphins was 14 years older than Terry Bradshaw when his team met the Steelers in the 1972 playoffs, and Morrall was 13 years older than Mike Phipps when the Dolphins met the Browns that same postseason. Kurt Warner was 13 years older than Matt Ryan when the Cardinals met the Falcons in the playoffs after the 2008 season.

 

The older quarterback won all four of the above-mentioned meetings. That may be a good omen for Brady and the Patriots.

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

OFFICIATING

The Divisional Playoff referees are set – and unless the Riveron Regime is throwing a change-up to tradition, one of them (Bill Vinovich, Gene Steratore, Brad Allen or Ron Torbert) will get the Super Bowl.

 

Falcons at Eagles, 4:35 p.m. NBC

Bill Vinovich is the referee, who is in his 12th season and 9th as referee. This is his 10th postseason assignment, including 2 Wild Card Playoffs, 4 Divisional Playoffs, 3 Conference Championships, and Super Bowl XLIX.

 

Other officials are U Mark Pellis, DJ Ed Camp, LJ Byron Boston. FJ Tom Hill SJ Allen Baynes, 83 Shawn Hochuli, Replay: Charles Stewart

Alternates: Terry McAulay (R), Hugo Cruz (DJ), Mike Weatherford (FJ)

 

Titans at Patriots, 8:15 p.m. CBS

Ron Torbert is the referee, who is in his 8th season and 4th as referee. This is his 6th postseason assignment, including 3 Wild Card Playoffs and 3 Divisional Playoffs; he has received a playoff assignment in every year he was eligible.

 

Other officials: U Bruce Stritesky, DJ      Jerod Phillips, LJ Mark Perlman, FJ        Dale Shaw,

SJ Scott Edwards, BJ    46 Perry Paganelli Replay: Darryll Lewis

Alternates: Clete Blakeman (R), Gary Arthur (LJ), Steve Patrick (BJ)

 

Sunday, Jan. 14

Jaguars at Steelers, 1:05 p.m. CBS

Brad Allen is the referee, who is in his 4th season. This is Allen’s second playoff assignment, and previously worked a Wild Card Playoff. Allen was hired directly to the referee position from the NCAA in 2014.

 

Other officials: U Barry Anderson, DJ Jerry Bergman, LJ Julian Mapp, FJ  Joe Larrew, SJ Walt Coleman IV, BJ Scott Helverson Replay: Jim Lapetina

Alternates: Walt Anderson (R), Carl Johnson (LJ), Greg Steed (BJ)

 

Saints at Vikings, 4:40 p.m. FOX

Gene Steratore is the referee, who is in his 15th season and 12th as referee. This is his 11th postseason assignment, including 3 Wild Card Playoffs, 6 Divisional Playoffs, and 2 Conference Championships.

 

Other officials: U Roy Ellison, DJ Tom Symonette, LJ Mark Steinkerchner, FJ Scott Novak, SJ Boris Cheek, BJ  Meyer Replay: Paul Weidner

Alternates: Craig Wrolstad (R), Jim Mello (DJ), Greg Yette (BJ)

 

We note that Pete Morelli, Carl Cheffers, Jerome Boger and Walt Coleman were alternates in the Wild Card round which had Jeff Triplette, Ed Hochuli, Tony Corrente and John Hussey on the field.  Yet to be heard from are Terry McAuley and John Parry, so are they the conference championship game refs?

 

Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report says the NFL’s officiating is broken and he has a plan to fix it.

 

1. The Triplette Effect

 

A number of front office members across the NFL were horrified by what they saw during Saturday’s Chiefs-Titans playoff game.

 

One told B/R it was perhaps the second- or third-worst-officiated game he’d ever seen, and he’s been in the league for decades. Another called the officiating an embarrassment.

 

Indeed, it was awful. Referee Jeff Triplette has long had a rep for being the game’s worst official, and he earned every bit of that title Saturday. Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith chronicled each Triplette error, a remarkable list considering its staggering length:

 

— Triplette blew the play dead immediately when Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson hit Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, ruling forward progress had stopped and the play was over. Replays appeared to show that Mariota had fumbled.

 

— On Mariota’s touchdown pass to himself, Triplette wrongly announced that Mariota was an eligible receiver because he was in the shotgun formation. In reality, the ball had been touched by a defensive player, which means every player on the field was an eligible receiver.

 

— After one penalty, there was a long delay while the officials conferred repeatedly, trying to figure out the right place to spot the ball.

 

— On a Titans first down, the ball was spotted about three yards short of where it should have been, forcing the Titans to challenge.

 

— Triplette announced that one Titans penalty was on No. 11. The Titans didn’t have a No. 11 on the field because the player with that number is Alex Tanney, a backup quarterback who is on injured reserve and wasn’t suited up for the game.

 

— In the final minutes, Derrick Henry got tackled, was clearly down and one official blew a whistle. But after Henry went down, the ball was stripped from Henry, and Johnson picked it up and ran to the end zone. The other officials allowed the play to keep going even though one had blown it dead. Replay eventually got it right, but once one official had blown it dead, it should have been over there.

 

After the game, NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala reported Triplette was planning on retiring.

 

Saturday wasn’t an outlier; the officiating has been awful all year. It may not be the worst we’ve ever seen, but if it isn’t, it’s damn close.

 

In the playoffs alone, there have been a host of inexcusable errors.

 

There were missed spots. There were missed calls, especially on head shots. Plays that should have been reviewed but weren’t. Basic stuff. Officials in the Panthers-Saints game forgot about a 10-second runoff after an intentional grounding ruling. And that doesn’t even get into Ed Hochuli’s 400-hour long explanations of penalties (“A gravitational wave near the accretion disk of a collapsed star has caused a fluctuation in the dilithium matrix, therefore, holding, defense, five-yard penalty, first down.”) 

 

No, this wasn’t the worse year for officiating. But it’s up there.

 

The question is: How do you fix it?

 

2. Stopping the Officiating Bleeding

 

In talking to people around the league, there is no shortage of ideas as to how to address the officiating crisis. Some of the solutions are draconian, but these sources also say drastic measures are needed.

 

1. The officials need to get younger. The game sometimes looks too fast for them. According to some in football, that inability to keep up with plays is the biggest reason so many calls get missed. Players are moving faster than ever, and if you can’t see what is happening, you can’t make the right calls.

 

2. Improve the technology. Stop using chains to measure first downs. And whatever you do, don’t use pieces of paper. There are far more efficient systems.

 

3. Make every official a full-time employee. It’s a small step, but the more game officials study their craft, the better they get at it. And if you’re moonlighting as a ref while clocking in 40 hours at another job, it’s hard to find the time. Make that time available by making the NFL their full-time gigs.

 

4. Make officials more accountable. Everyone after a game has to explain themselves—coaches, players, even some owners like Jerry Jones or Bob Kraft will answer questions after a game. Officials don’t. If there’s a controversial call, the referee gives a statement to a pool reporter. That isn’t enough. Game officials need to hold press conferences. They’re not made of porcelain. They can take the pressure.

 

5. Cut the rule book in half. Doing this would prevent the paralysis by analysis that happens when officiating crews are forced to freeze a game while they interpret far too many rules.

 

6. Add an extra official. Coaches and others previously have suggested adding an eighth official, but Carolina head coach Ron Rivera was as vocal on the subject as almost any coach ever has been in the wake of his team’s loss to the Saints on Sunday.

 

“I think they need help,” Rivera said Monday, per ESPN.com‘s David Newton. “First of all, there’s a lot of vagueness to the rules. There’s a lot of gray area. We put a lot on them and ask them to do a lot. Things happen in a split-second. They’re trying to make decisions during real time.

 

“I think they do need to add an extra referee, and they need to put that guy right behind the linebackers. They’ve got to pad him up. It’s just my opinion. But these guys are trying to do something that’s very difficult. It’s an emotional game. I get emotional about it, and I know they try to do the best they can.”

 

It’s time to make changes to the way the NFL is officiated, or we’ll all keep talking about how awful it is.

 

The DB thinks it is easy to say “cut the rule book in half” – but the devil is in the details as to which half or third or tenth to cut.  Wait until the first time that a play comes up and the answer is, “We used to have a rule that covered it, we all know it, but it was in the half that Mike Freeman threw out.”

 

The DB thinks it is easy to say “make officials accountable” but do we really want the officials to be more visible than they already are?  Getting into arguments with idiot sportswriters who don’t buy their explanations after the game?

 

“Improve the technology” – the problem really isn’t the chains, the Steratore inch rarely factors in.  The problem can be the spotting of the ball – and that’s humans.

 

We do see a huge crunch coming with referees as the Walts, Coleman and Anderson, Pete Morelli, Ed Hochuli, Tony Corrente, Jerome Boger and Terry McAuley all are at retirement age for their day jobs, much less the job that calls for all that running.  Issues of competence aside, along with Triplette that is nine referees who have to be well past third base in their career.

 

We don’t know about the rest of the positions, but that has to be a factor as well.

 

 

2018 DRAFT

Can it be that QB BAKER MAYFIELD thinks he can survive without an agent?  Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

At a time when all the top incoming rookies are picking their agents, former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield’s choice may be none of the above.

 

Via Liz Mullen of SportsBusiness Daily, the Heisman winner currently is trying to decide whether to hire an agent, and he possibly won’t.

 

The argument against hiring an agent is simple: Thanks to the rookie wage scale, contracts for incoming players basically negotiate themselves. (Also, agent fees are no longer tax-deductible.)

 

The argument in favor of hiring an agent is more complex. A good agent can impact a rookie’s career in numerous ways. (Also, for guys taken in round one, there are certain nuances and hot spots in the draft order relevant to offset language, guaranteed pay, and other structural devices.)

 

First, a good agent will get the rookie the best possible pre-draft training, ensuring that the player is ready for the various events of the Underwear Olympics and the pre-draft workouts that follow. (A good agent also covers those expenses.)

 

Second, a good agent will advise the player on whether to participate in the Senior Bowl (Mayfield already has decided to do it), whether and to what extent to engage in Scouting Combine activities, and whether and to what extent to engage in pre-draft team visits and private workouts. A good agent will serve as the buffer between the player and a team that may not be happy to hear that, for example, the player won’t be visiting the facility or throwing privately for its coaching staff.

 

Third, a good agent will study rosters and depth charts and coaching staffs and schemes, identifying the best destination for the player’s short-term and long-term interests and embarking on a plan to get him there.

 

Fourth, a good agent will sell, sell, sell his client, working scouts, coaches, owners, and media to make the players as desirable as possible, because the higher he’s drafted the more money he makes.

 

Fifth, and most importantly, a good agent will land the plane between maxing out the rookie deal and laying the foundation for the most significant earning potential on and off the field. As former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen recently noted, it’s better to go lower to a good team than higher to a bad team. A good agent will thread that needle.

 

As to Mayfield, there’s also a risk that any type of outside-the-box approach to the pre-draft process will heighten concerns that the team that drafts him is getting more of a loose cannon than a franchise quarterback. With so many seeing Mayfield as potentially the next Johnny Manziel, there’s value in submitting to the norms and conventions of the process, soothing concerns that a first-round pick on Mayfield could be wasted.

 

Thus, while having no agent is better than having a bad agent, Mayfield’s overall interests would be very well served by hiring a good agent who is skilled and experienced in preparing quarterbacks for the draft, getting them drafted as early as possible, and getting them to the right team, both for the initial contract and the contracts to follow.