The Daily Briefing Thursday, January 4, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Latest coaching interviews –
Bears – In-house DC Vic Fangio
Lions – In-house OC Jim Bob Cooter, In-house DC Teryl Austin, Texans DC Mike Vrabel
Giants – Request permission to interview Eagles DC Jim Schwartz,
Yesterday, we reported on all the wonderful in-house candidates groomed for the Packers GM job by the great Ted Thompson. That doesn’t include those who have left the fold in recent years like John Schneider, Reggie McKenzie and John Dorsey.
But Ian Rapoport is now throwing out an outside name, the guy who traded up a fortune to get WR SAMMY WADKINS. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Packers have said they won’t confine their General Manager search to internal candidates or outsiders who previously were on the inside in Green Bay. And they apparently meant it.
Via Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, former Bills G.M. Doug Whaley is “expected to” receive interest for the job currently held by Ted Thompson.
Whaley had been the G.M. in Buffalo, before being fired after the draft. With the hay largely in the barn (but for a few trades made by new G.M. Brandon Beane), the Bills made it to the playoffs for the first time in 18 years.
Indeed, each of the three teams who fired General Managers after the rosters were largely set (Bills, Chiefs, Panthers) made it to the playoffs this year. That explains why two of the General Managers who were fired already have been rehired.
Whaley could be the third. To get there, however, the Packers will have to get past a disastrous press conference from Whaley in early 2017. If, however, the Packers are content to allow Whaley to wall himself off from the media in the same way that Thompson did, that may not be much of an issue.
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Meanwhile, the Packers have jettisoned two longtime aides to Coach Mike McCarthy:
The Packers soon will have a new football boss. His primary subordinate apparently is doing what he can to straighten up the workplace before that happens.
The Packers, at the behest presumably of coach Mike McCarthy, have fired offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett and quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt (pictured with Mason Crosby), according to ESPN.
The moves mean that the Packers will have dumped both the team’s offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator (Dom Capers) in the same week. Short of firing McCarthy and/or firing all of the assistant coaches, it’s the most significant shakeup of the coaching staff possible. (McCarthy also has fired inside linebackers coach Scott McCurley and defensive line coach Mike Trgovac.)
Team president Mark Murphy told reporters on Tuesday that the new General Manager will have the power to hire and fire the head coach. The head coach possibly is doing everything he can to make the best possible impression on the new G.M. in 2018, so that the new G.M. will choose not to hire his own coach in 2019.
Mac Engel in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram with some changes to the Cowboys coaching staff:
The Dallas Cowboys have informed longtime quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson and secondary coach Joe Baker that they will not return for the 2018 season, according to team sources.
Neither move is considered a surprise as head coach Jason Garrett looks to tweak a staff on a team that missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record.
Wilson, who played at East Texas State and then in the NFL from 1981 to 1998, including his last three with the Cowboys, had been in this role since 2007.
He was hired by then head coach Wade Phillips, and worked under Jason Garrett since then. Wilson had been the quarterbacks coach for the Chicago Bears for three years before joining the Cowboys.
In his time as the Cowboys’ quarterbacks coach, Wilson worked with Tony Romo, Kellen Moore, Jon Kitna and extensively with Dak Prescott. Wilson is well liked and respected, but it’s likely head coach Jason Garrett simply wants a new voice for that position.
Baker was hired as the assistant secondary coach in 2012. He moved to safeties in 2014, and was promoted to secondary coach in 2016. His contract had expired.
Also on the move is expected to be special teams coach Rich Bisaccia, who just completed his fifth season with the franchise. Sources said the Cowboys expect Bisaccia to join Jon Gruden’s staff with the Oakland Raiders when that move is made official, likely next week
A double whammy for S T.J. WARD who is revealed to have been in possession of marijuana in October when he fails to show up in court in January or December. Greg Auman in the Tampa Bay Times:
Bucs safety T.J. Ward is not starting his offseason off well.
Ward, 31 and two months away from being an unrestricted free agent, was arrested at his Tampa apartment at 8:11 a.m. Wednesday on an outstanding warrant relating to a previous (and unreported) arrest. Ward was booked and released on $2,500 bond at 11:46 a.m.
He’s facing a felony count of possession of marijuana, as well as a misdemeanor count of possession of drug paraphernalia. Ward came to the Bucs four months ago from Colorado, where he was a Pro Bowl safety for the Broncos.
The original arrest took place on Oct. 25 — at 4:45 p.m. on a Wednesday during the week leading up to the Bucs’ first game against Carolina. Tampa Police officers responding to an “active intrusion alarm” at Ward’s apartment were allowed in by Ciera Woody, 38, who was alone there.
There were two glass jars containing 99.9 grams of marjiuana “in plain view,” according to the report, and Woody denied ownership and said they belonged to Ward. When he was later interviewed post-Miranda, he admitted knowledge of the marijuana inside jars “he occasionally smoked out of,” and admitted owning a “brass grinder containing marijuana residue.”
Woody, who said the marijuana was “medicinal” and later told police it was hers according to the report, also faces the same felony possession charge as Ward. The amount of 99.9 grams equates to 3.5 ounces; in Florida, possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana counts as a felony.
That arrest went unreported and likely would have remained so, but Ward failed to appear in court on those charges and a warrant was issued, leading to Wednesday’s arrest.
After signing a one-year, $4-million contract in August, Ward had a limited role with the Bucs — he had no interceptions and no forced fumbles, totaling 30 tackles and starting only five games.
As an unrestricted free agent, it’s very possible he had played his final game with the Bucs even before his arrest. The team was aware of Wednesday’s arrest when contacted but had not yet released any statement.
GM John Lynch indicates a boatload of York cash will soon be heading to the House of Garoppolo. Eric Branch in the San Francisco Chronicle:
The 49ers want to keep Jimmy Garoppolo for a “long, long time.”
General manager John Lynch made that abundantly clear Tuesday by invoking the phrase on three occasions when asked about upcoming contract negotiations with the quarterback who transformed the franchise after he became a starter in early December.
At one point, Lynch was asked if the 49ers were ready to offer a long-term contract commensurate with the NFL’s top QBs for a player who looks elite. Garoppolo took over a 1-10 team and directed it to a 5-0 finish.
“We’re going to work hard to try to keep him as a 49er for a long, long time,” Lynch said. “We’re really happy with the way he played. We think he’s got some abilities that are unique. And we want him here.”
Garoppolo, 26, is a pending free agent, but the 49ers won’t let get him away. The question is whether they will sign him to a one-year franchise tag and pay him at least $23 million guaranteed in 2018. Their other option is to ensure they have him for, well, a long, long time and work out a multiyear deal.
“Look, we want Jimmy to be a Niner for a long, long time,” he said. “That process is going to take place here. We’re eager to get that done, to have the opportunity. But I think one thing that we really believe is that those things should take place between us and his representatives and not occur and transpire in the public.
“And that’s the way we’re going to treat that. But you guys have our assurances and, the fans, too, that we’d like nothing more than to make him a Niner for long, long time.”
For his part, Garoppolo has been a bit more circumspect when asked about potentially signing a long-term contract. On Monday, for example, he maintained he hadn’t given it much thought. Lynch suggested Garoppolo hasn’t been as coy privately when asked if his public stance gave him pause.
“Not at all,” Lynch said. “We’ve had conversations with him and we know where he stands.”
On Sunday, in the aftermath of a 34-13 win over the Rams, Garoppolo made it clear he enjoyed his two-month stint with the 49ers. He wasn’t asked about his contract status, but in discussing his experience with his new team, he termed it “kind of a perfect match.”
The 49ers, in theory, could have signed Garoppolo to a far more affordable deal if they’d worked out an extension shortly after they acquired him from the Patriots for a second-round pick Oct. 30.
However, Lynch said neither the 49ers nor Garoppolo’s agent, Don Yee, was interested in negotiating at the time.
“We made that collectively,” Lynch said. “That’s where his side was. That’s where we were. We made that collectively. And now we’ll proceed.”
Because of Garoppolo’s inexperience — he’d finished one NFL start and thrown 94 passes when the 49ers acquired him — head coach Kyle Shanahan initially said it was likely the 49ers would use the franchise tag on him in the offseason.
However, that was before Garoppolo averaged 308.4 passing yards per start and posted a 96.2 passer rating with the 49ers. The 49ers, who were ranked 21st in total offense before Garoppolo’s first start, finished 12th in the NFL. It was their second-highest finish since 2003.
“Obviously, Jimmy came in and was fabulous,” Lynch said. “He was great for us. And he made people around him better. And I think that’s the mark of a player who has an opportunity to be special.”
Garoppolo’s performance means he figures to command an enormous contract, and that Lynch and Shanahan aren’t eager to discuss their deal with New England head coach Bill Belichick. It was Belichick who approached the 49ers about a trade that now looks very one-sided.
Asked about post-trade discussions with Belichick, Lynch and Shanahan, almost in unison, sounded just like him.
“We’re on to the offseason,” they said, laughing.
The King of Coy, Jon Gruden, almost commits to the Raiders. Rick Stroud in the TampaBay Times:
Jon Gruden finally admitted what everyone has believed is true: he has interviewed for the OaklandRaiders’ head coaching job and says “there’s a good chance” he will take it.
Appearing on ESPN’s Golic and Wingo show, Gruden said he had interviewed with Raiders principal owner and managing general partner Mark Davis.
It’s been reported that Gruden will earn $10-million per season. The only hangup appears to be the Raiders have to fulfill the requirements of the Rooney Rule by interviewing a minority head coaching candidate.
Gruden was asked if he would be the next coach of the Raiders, who fired Jack Del Rio immediately following the season finale Sunday.
“That’s up to Mark Davis,” Gruden said. “I have had conversations with Mark. They’re still, I believe, going through the interview process. When he knows, I think we’ll all know. But I appreciate Adam (Schefter) and Chris (Mortensen)’s confidence that I have a chance of getting that job. It’s awfully nice of them.”
But Gruden made it clear he has been preparing to return to coaching and will take the job when all is said and done.
“I think there’s a good chance,” Gruden said. “I’m excited about where I am in terms of studying the game and preparing to come back and coach. I just don’t want to speculate. It’s almost like, uh, I don’t know what’s going to happen, Mike. I’ve got to be honest with you. It’s been a long couple weeks. I know they’ve gone through their process of interviewing candidates, and until they’re done, I won’t know. But I did have a good meeting with Mark, I’ve known him a long time and got a lot of respect for the Raider football organization.”
To get Gruden to leave a plumb job like the star of Monday Night Football, where he earns $6.5-million a year from ESPN plus endorsements, everyone knew it would take an enormous contract. However, Gruden debunked reports that he will receive a share of the Raiders ownership.
“There’s no truth to that at all,” Gruden said. “I heard Stephen Smith screaming at me on TV yesterday on one of his shows. There’s no validity to that at all. None. Zero. That’s a nice segment I saw, but no ownership, that’s for sure.”
As Hue Jackson tries to use his undeniable charm on new GM John Dorsey, there are varying reports of his success. Patrick Maks of ClevelandBrowns.com:
After delivering his end-of-year press conference and meeting with each member of the Browns’ roster earlier this week, head coach Hue Jackson said he’d take some time to decompress following the first winless season in franchise history.
“I’m going to get away,” Jackson said Sunday following a season-ending loss to the Steelers. “I’m going to take myself away for a few days, come back rejuvenated and get ready for 2018.”
When he returns, Jackson and new general manager John Dorsey will dive headfirst into what they believe to be a pivotal offseason. The Browns, armed with the first and fourth-overall picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, are poised to add potential game-changing players to one of the league’s youngest rosters. Cleveland also holds three more picks in the first two rounds and can also inject veteran talent when free agency opens in March.
As the Browns evaluate their roster, Jackson said he expects the next few months to be a thorough, collaborative process. “I will be very involved with John that way. It’s going to be ongoing. That’s going to be fluid. We are going to keep working through every piece of it. I think you have to really dig into everything now,” he said.
“There’s nothing you can leave out of this equation. I think you have to go through it all on every player and make sure we understand exactly how this guy fits – what’s the intended use? How are we going to go about placing this guy on our football team? The whole nine yards. I just think you do that at every position as you move forward, and I think John feels the same way.”
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said he’s encouraged by the pair’s growing partnership. “I work with them every day, I sit with them every day. I see them going back and forth, I see them talking,” Haslam said Sunday.
But this from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com:
Browns coach Hue Jackson had an offensive coordinator during the 2016 season. Jackson didn’t have an offensive coordinator during the 2017 season.
After the Browns hired G.M. John Dorsey, a report emerged that Jackson will hire an offensive coordinator for 2018. Over the weekend, a report emerged that Dorsey would be hiring the offensive coordinator.
On Monday, Jackson was asked about the report that Dorsey would be hiring the offensive coordinator.
“I really appreciate John’s expertise,” Jackson said. “He has seen a lot of different ways to do things, and I will lean on him for things, but I don’t think John is making a decision on if we are going to have a coordinator or not.”
Jackson also was asked whether hiring an offensive coordinator falls within the responsibility of the coach.
“I would think so, thank you,” Jackson said with a laugh.
That may have been nervous laughter. Jackson may realize that an effort by Dorsey to hire, or at least influence the hire, of an offensive coordinator could mean that Dorsey would have an interim head coach in place, in the event Jackson and the Browns yet again stumble out of the gates. In 2017, the lack of an offensive coordinator meant that there was one less potential in-season replacement for Jackson.
In 2018, the presence of a coordinator means that Dorsey would have someone who could take over, if/when Dorsey finally persuades ownership that, yes, Hue Jackson has significant responsibility for the current state of the franchise. The more influence Dorsey has over the hire, the more likely that the hire will be someone Dorsey envisions as a potential replacement for Hue.
So look for the hiring, or not, of an offensive coordinator to become the first pressure point in the new relationship between G.M. and coach.
AFC South opponents continue to try to get in the head of Jaguars QB BLAKE BORTLES. Today, it is DE DURELL CASEY of the Titans. Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com:
Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey laid another hit on the Jacksonville Jaguars, this time calling out quarterback Blake Bortles for choking in key moments.
“As long as Bortles is back there, if the ballgame is in his hands, he’s going to choke,” Casey told 104.5 The Zone in Nashville on Tuesday.
Casey’s most recent comments come two days after he challenged the Jaguars’ credentials as true contenders following the Titans’ 15-10 win to complete a regular-season sweep of the AFC South champions.
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WR MARQISE LEE hopes to return to the Jacksonville lineup on Saturday. Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com:
Marqise Lee is planning on playing in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ first playoff game since 2007 on Sunday.
As for whether his sprained right ankle will allow him to do so, that’s a different matter.
“You’re going to ask me if I’m thinking about Sunday and playing; I think I’ll be out there, but I can’t tell you what the coaches and the trainers are going to decide,” Lee said. “From my standpoint, I believe I should be fine and be out there.”
Lee said he’s ahead of schedule in his rehab from the high ankle sprain suffered early in the team’s Dec. 17 victory over Houston. He has not practiced since the injury but did some running off to the side during practice on Wednesday for the first time since the injury.
That had him optimistic that he will be able to play against the Bills (9-7) in the first home playoff game for the Jaguars (10-6) since 1999.
“In my head I’m going so I’m just going to put it like that,” Lee said. “I’m getting it right. I’m getting treatment in the sense of thinking about me playing on Sunday.”
Lee is the Jaguars’ leading receiver (56 catches) and the team has really missed his presence the last two games. Quarterback Blake Bortles has been forced to rely on rookies Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook and first-year player Jaydon Mickens as his primary targets because Allen Hurns, the Jaguars’ No. 2 receiver, had missed six consecutive games before his return last Sunday.
Cole, Westbrook and Mickens played well in the first three weeks of December, combining for 30 catches for 575 yards and six touchdowns. However, the trio has struggled the past two weeks with drops (including Westbrook dropping a perfectly thrown pass that would have been a touchdown), fumbles and running the wrong routes.
Coach Adam Gase is not happy with WR JARVIS LANDRY’s antics in the finale. That seems to case some doubt about the NFL’s receptions leader returning to Miami, even as QB RYAN TANNEHILL returns to a starting role. The AP:
Jarvis Landry’s return to the Miami Dolphins in 2018 looked a little less likely Wednesday after coach Adam Gase delivered a stinging critique of the excitable receiver’s behavior in the season finale.
Landry and teammate Kenyan Drake were ejected in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Buffalo Bills. Landry was an instigator in the brawl that led to the ejections.
“This last game was probably the pinnacle of what I’ve ever seen with him during a game,” Gase said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen it get to a level where it was extremely bad. But the last game was about as embarrassing as I’ve seen in a long time. It was something we can’t have happen.”
Landry, who led the NFL with 112 receptions, can become a free agent this offseason. He has said he wants to remain with the Dolphins, and they’ve said they want him back, but his volatile personality is cause for a concern — especially on a team that went 6-10 in part due to a lack of discipline.
Landry said he was defending himself in the fight but acknowledged the ejections hurt the Dolphins’ comeback bid. They trailed 22-9 at the time and lost 22-16 .
“We’re going on our last drive, and two of our best players on offense aren’t in there,” Gase said. “That was very frustrating to watch. We need way better control from our best players in the heat of the moment.”
Landry’s latest meltdown will be something to consider in deciding his future with Miami, Gase said.
“You can’t take one isolated incident and overreact, but at the same time we’ve got to make sure we look at everything we’ve been doing over the last couple of years,” the coach said. “You look at the body of work and see what direction we want to go.”
Landry’s body of work in four seasons with Miami includes 400 catches, an NFL record for a fourth-year player. He is by far the most high-profile Dolphins player eligible for free agency.
“Philosophically we want to draft, develop and keep as many of our own as possible,” executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum said. “So we’ll see what happens with Jarvis and a few other noteworthy free agents. In a perfect world we’d keep them all, but there is a salary cap.”
Gase said he expects Ryan Tannehill to return as the starting quarterback in 2018 after missing the entire season because of a knee injury. He indicated he doesn’t expect quarterback Jay Cutler to be back.
How would the season have been different had Tannehill stayed healthy?
“I’m pretty sure you know my answer,” Gase said with a slight smile. “But it didn’t happen.”
Gase also said veteran leadership needs to improve next season.
“It’s never going to be the way we want it until guys take control of this thing,” he said. “You need your leaders to step up and be vocal.”
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Gase is also bringing in Dowell Loggains from the staff of John Fox in Chicago. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
Dowell Loggains found a soft landing spot with a friend after being dismissed from the Chicago Bears.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported on Wednesday night that the Miami Dolphins are naming Loggains their new offensive coordinator, per a source informed of the situation.
Former OC Clyde Christensen is likely to remain with the team and transition to another role, per Rapoport.
Loggains worked with Dolphins coach Adam Gase in Chicago during the latter’s one year as offensive coordinator of the Bears. Loggains was promoted from QB coach to OC after Gase left for Miami.
The 37-year-old Loggains entered NFL coaching as a quality control coordinator for the Tennessee Titans in 2008. He was promoted to QB coach in 2010, and to offensive coordinator in 2012.. (Munchak lost his job in part because he refused to fire assistants, including Loggains.) Loggains spent one year as the Browns QB coach before joining Gase in Chicago.
Gase is expected to remain the play caller in Miami.
Loggains’ last two years in Chicago frustrated most Bears fans. His offense was characterized by conservative, unimaginative, unproductive play-calling. Clearly, Gase believes the ineptitude of Loggains’ offense had more to do with the lack of playmakers than the young coach’s faulty play design. The lesson once again: It pays to have friends in high places if you’re an NFL coach.
THIS AND THAT
STAYING THE COURSE
Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com is puzzled that the Buccaneers, Broncos, Jets and Bengals all kept their coaches while the Lions and Raiders dumped theirs, among other curious moves:
If you had told me two weeks ago that the Browns, Bengals, Broncos and Buccaneers were all going to keep their coaches, and the Bears were going to extend their novice general manager and the Jets were going to re-ante on their regime, but that the Lions and Raiders were going to blow up their coaching staffs within hours of the season ending, I would have been shocked. It would be like hitting on an eight-team parlay all 17 weeks of the NFL season. It would seem, well, irrational and implausible. I would have called it impossible.
But alas, in a post-truth world, it is very much reality.
When we spend the long, long offseason bemoaning the state of play, the quality of the product, the growing trend of coordinators being fired weeks into the season and coaches being on the hot seat before Halloween, well, recall these first few days of January. The seeds of the future unrest and discord are being sowed now in many cases, and the inevitable hand-wringing to come from ownership throughout the league by the end of September, it can be traced back to this point.
If an owner and general manager need to spend considerable time mulling over the need to change — if their gut and instinct is to address significant problems right now before the combine, free agency, the draft and the annual winter roster overhaul — then in many cases it’s wise to follow it. Maintaining the status quo, and in some cases condoning or incentivizing below-average performance, tends to cause even bigger problems down the road. And while I have been among those chronicling the lack of a deep talent pool of head coaching candidates, which inherently increases the competition for those who truly stand out, that doesn’t mean sitting on one’s hands or pretending things really aren’t that bad is the way to go, either.
This is supposed to be a meritocracy for the best and brightest; several of these franchises should have at least put up a fight.
“It’s hard to believe what’s going on in this league right now,” one NFL decision maker I think very highly of said. “This league, so many of these owners, are just rewarding mediocrity, or worse, like it’s an accomplishment to go 5-11 or 7-9.”
Not all of these situations are the same, and I’m not here to say all of the above teams should have fired their coaches. I am not saying Jim Caldwell and Jack Del Rio, of the Lions and Raiders, are among the greatest minds in the game or are some unimpeachable leaders. And I can understand the desire of Jets ownership to stand behind Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan after a team many thought might flirt with Hue Jackson territory (more on surviving 0-16 later) was quite competitive until losing its starting quarterback.
But when you do the math, it’s, um, fuzzy at best. It doesn’t quite add up. One plus one does not equal two.
Consider: Del Rio and Caldwell each took moribund franchises to the playoffs a year ago despite major injuries to their starting quarterbacks. Caldwell just led the Lions to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1993-95. Del Rio was a finalist for Coach of the Year in 2016. Over the past two years, Del Rio is 25-23 and Caldwell is 36-28. So they are a combined 10 games over .500 the past two seasons.
As for the men who kept their jobs and/or just got extensions, over the past two seasons: Hue Jackson (Browns) is 1-31; Dirk Koetter (Bucs) is 14-18; Marvin Lewis (Bengals) is 13-18-1; Vance Joseph (Broncos) is 5-11 (in his rookie year as a head coach). Ryan Pace (Bears GM) is 14-34 on the job and 8-24 the past two years; Maccagnan and Bowles are 20-28 in all and 10-22 the past two years.
That’s a combined record, the past two seasons, of 51-124-1. That’s 73 games under .500, folks. That’s failure, on any level, in any sport. I understand Mark Davis’ lust for Jon Gruden — which led to Del Rio’s prompt ouster — and I get Lions young GM Bob Quinn wanting to finally hire his own guy. I would just go back to what I wrote at the time he came on the job two years ago and advise him to get cracking on a new coaching regime right then and there, because it was always clear that outside of an unforeseen deep playoff run he and Caldwell were dating more than married.
All of this reminds me of two ago (I chronicled this on Jan. 7, 2016, to be exact) when the Bills gave Rex Ryan an extension (albeit a somewhat faux one) and extended GM Doug Whaley. The Colts tried to keep the band together with Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson, extending them after a poor season. The Browns and Dolphins made promotions from within in their front offices (Sashi Brown and Chris Grier). The Chargers expected to fire Mike McCoy after that season, then reversed course. The Titans made interim head coach Mike Mularkey their permanent head coach. The Giants parted with Tom Coughlin but kept embattled GM Jerry Reese. The Saints mulled trading Sean Payton but ended up extending him.
And for all of that, the Saints keeping it together with Payton has clearly paid off two years later, but the rest of it? Well, it’s pretty ugly. And this isn’t Monday morning quarterbacking; go back and read the column I wrote at the time.
Ryan didn’t make it through the 2016 season and Whaley was fired immediately after the 2017 draft; neither was a surprise in the least. Reese was finally fired midway through the 2017 season, something the Giants almost never do. The Dolphins will enter 2018 with fannies on the hot seat and the Sashi Brown era in Cleveland was a total disaster with him fired before being allowed to experience, firsthand, the fruits of his labor and that 0-16 perfection. Grigson was fired after the 2016 season, and Pagano was a dead man walking for basically all of 2017. McCoy was fired immediately after the 2016 season. Mularkey was likely to be fired had the Titans not ended a losing skid Sunday to squeak into the playoffs; with Marcus Mariota regressing, some in the league believe a weak showing in the wild-card round could still lead to his ouster.
How did that work out two years ago, the last time this trend was all the rage? The only name from that entire last paragraph who is truly entrenched now is Payton; of course, he’s also the only Super Bowl winner of that group and he is established in a way these other men have never been. And when it comes to the coaches and general managers these owners have opted to cling to this time around, well, I would venture there isn’t a Payton in the bunch.
What has really happened these last few days is the clock has already been wound up on the 2019 offseason, and the 2018 hot seat is already being established. I guarantee you, of the Browns, Bucs, Bengals, Broncos and Bears, at least three of them will be making significant changes, perhaps all five. Marvin Lewis’ two-year pact in Cincy essentially means he is coaching for his life again in 2018. Joseph, with an entirely new staff more or less beside offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, and perhaps with a rookie quarterback, will be under fire. Unless Jameis Winston lifts Tampa to the playoffs next season, Koetter will be gone. If Pace’s new hire can’t make Mitch Trubisky begin to ascend in 2018, all eyes will be on Pace, extension or not.
And Jackson could be looking at a Dennis Allen/Joe Philbin September firing should the Browns still be looking for the first win after a quarter of the season. He absolutely has to win a game sometime early in that season, because it’s already well established general manager John Dorsey is only living with him now because the owner mandated it.
So good luck with all of that. Godspeed, owners. May the football gods be with you. You’re going to need all the luck you can get. Because the consultants who put so many of these candidates in place and the search firms who continue to bilk millions from so many of you should know better. And a year from now many of you will be right back where you were today, only this time you’ll be letting people go in January. That is, of course, only if you haven’t parted ways with them before then.
John Andrew Miller, who literally wrote the book on ESPN, burrows into the demise of John Skipper in the Hollywood Reporter:
John Skipper cited “substance addiction” as the reason for abruptly stepping down in December, but both his actions before the announcement and Disney’s incentives to push him out suggest a different narrative, writes the author of an oral history of ESPN.
More than two weeks after John Skipper resigned Dec. 18 as president of ESPN, the massive shock waves that greeted the abrupt exit of one of the most powerful people in sports media have begun to die down, but widespread skepticism remains. Initially, the focus was, perhaps understandably, on what Skipper himself revealed in an email to employees: “I have struggled for many years with a substance addiction,” he wrote, and “I have decided that the most important thing I can do right now is to take care of my problem.”
No one saw Skipper’s departure coming, including those closest to him at the network; few, if any, knew he had a “substance addiction” issue; and most, once they learned of it, asked incredulously why he didn’t take a leave of absence to seek treatment, then return, conceivably stronger than ever. Skipper has never had problems being likable. Public opinion inside and out of ESPN and parent company Disney would have most likely been with him. America loves tales of falls and recovery. So surely, many thought, there must be something else going on; substance abuse must be filling the role of the MacGuffin in a Hitchcock thriller — perhaps the cover for a workplace scandal.
Yet since the bombshell announcement, not a single story has materialized that offers a more plausible explanation that goes beyond the original, mercurial Skipper statement (and that’s with just a few million investigative reporters trying to track one down). Now, some Skipper supporters are beginning to believe his departure was only about a drug problem. Maybe in this case, a cigar really is just a cigar.
Well, as much as I’d like to join them in believing that, I’m sorry, but I just can’t. What if instead of jumping, John Skipper was pushed — and not because of any sordid story desperately being kept secret? What if the critical word in his statement wasn’t “addiction,” but rather that his departure was “mutual”? What if this was, in a manner of speaking, a Mickey Mouse operation?
In the absence of a smoking gun, proceeding down such a path could easily be compared to suggesting the moon landing had been staged in a studio somewhere in the Valley. Nevertheless, we can all agree that if his resignation were fueled solely by his drug problem, that would be a conclusion Skipper would have come to after long and deliberate thought. So consider:
First, I simply don’t believe Skipper is a good enough actor to stand in front of hundreds of ESPN employees Dec. 13 and lay out an infectious and enthusiastic blueprint for the future of the company — and tell them, according to sources who were there, “We’re all in this together” — if he knew he’d be leaving in a mere five days. No. Freakin’. Way. Skipper can be as crafty and cunning as the best of them, but lying like that has an amoral dimension to it that is certainly not Skipperesque. (If anything, he’s gotten himself into trouble by being too transparent).
Second, I don’t buy the idea that after being basically prevented from doing press interviews and major public speeches for more than a year by highly protective and cautious investor-relations gurus in Burbank, Skipper would suddenly raise his profile while knowing he was about to fold his tent. That makes no sense at all. In addition to the highly visible presentation before ESPN troops Dec. 13, Skipper did a “Keynote Conversation” at the Sports Video Group Summit in New York 24 hours earlier, again approaching the future not in a “This will be my legacy” manner, but rather a “We have great days ahead, just watch us” perspective.
Third, for more than a year, Skipper and I had been discussing a long, comprehensive and nothing-off-the-table interview he had agreed to do with me. I saw his public appearances and comments dwindling in 2016 and that situation became even more apparent throughout 2017 (complete with not a word, even on background, to reporters after ESPN’s annual upfronts, which had been a tradition).
Skipper did sit for an interview with me for about 40 minutes in late November and did a follow-up via phone in early December, but it was specifically for my podcast, Origins, dealing with social media at ESPN, and the documentary series 30 for 30, which he greenlighted. In the podcast, he said, “I must confess that there’s been a significant amount of stress” dealing with social media imbroglios like Jemele Hill’s tweets about President Trump, and Samatha Ponder’s posts about Barstool Sports, adding, “It’s frustrating, and I have let that get the better of me a few times.” I told him that kind of openness was one of the reasons I was so looking forward to our long-planned interview, and he said he was as well. We continued to talk about it, and in early December he told me he was going to be able to do the interview and we just needed to focus on more specific timing. When was our last communication about such timing for the interview to take place? Dec. 14 — the day after his speech in Bristol and the day before sources indicate the decision was made to announce his resignation 72 hours later.
Fourth, what about his contract extension? Before he agreed to a multiyear renewal in late spring 2017 to remain at ESPN, Skipper, 62, had given great thought to whether he was going to leave the job or stay. It wasn’t a no-brainer for him, yet he ultimately came to the conclusion he wasn’t ready to say goodbye. He wanted to change the course of the anxious narrative surrounding ESPN for the past several years, fueled by declining subscribers and layoffs, and felt that he was beginning to put together the pieces of a new and better era. Remember, in his resignation letter he used the phrase “many years” to characterize his addiction. Are we supposed to believe that after such a long time, it got so suddenly and significantly worse after he agreed to re-up to the point where he had to go through such a public bloodletting? Wouldn’t the prudent move have been to not re-up and take care of his problems privately?
Finally, it simply doesn’t make sense that Skipper created a new hierarchy for ESPN just months ago if he had any thought of leaving in the near term, because the new management structure was topped off by the trio of Justin Connelly, Burke Magnus (whose contract expires in just two months) and Connor Schell. Skipper obviously valued and trusted these three executives but also believed each had his own learning curve and was excited about mentoring them in the years to come. You never heard him saying that any one of them could step into his shoes at a moment’s notice if, God forbid, he was struck by a bus.
If Skipper was contemplating an exit, the smart and easy path was to have simply said yes to Disney CEO Bob Iger’s invitation/urging to bring over to ESPN one of Iger’s most trusted lieutenants, Jimmy Pitaro, currently chairman of Disney’s products division. Going back a couple of years, this reporter learned that Iger had offered up Pitaro’s services to Skipper on several occasions to shore up what some in Burbank considered a less-than-stellar senior management team in Bristol, or at least one that didn’t have Skipper’s successor in its ranks.
But Skipper, in his most audacious move as president of ESPN, gave a Southern, polite “No thanks” to his boss and to the prospect of a Pitaro transfer, explaining that he thought the move would disrupt the ESPN culture and that Pitaro’s services were not needed. A more cynical view was that he didn’t want to have a clear successor in place, thereby guaranteeing his own longevity. Or so he thought.
How can one further defend the idea that Skipper didn’t leave ESPN voluntarily? What if it’s as simple as he was no longer wanted? In late November, John Lasseter, co-founder of Pixar, was given a six-month “sabbatical” to deal with his issues, care of the very same corporate parent. Even if Skipper had done drugs in a Disney bathroom, if he was regarded as the right leader for ESPN, you get the guy immediate help and tell him not to worry about his job because it will be waiting for him. Even if he says he wants to quit, you try and talk him out of it. Alcohol and drug treatment facilities are veritable stomping grounds for corporate leaders on leave.
In the aftermath of Disney’s Dec. 14 announcement that it will acquire significant parts of 21st Century Fox, Iger revealed he will stay at Disney through 2021, not only apparently taking him out of the running for the Democratic nomination for president, but also giving him more time to deliver to the Disney board a designated successor for himself. And what better proving ground is there in the Disney constellation than ESPN? Skipper’s replacement will have to deal with many major elements involved in today’s and tomorrow’s media businesses, including acquisitions, television/digital rights, the creation of new, meaningful revenue streams, and battling competition from rivals old and new. Get the ESPN job, hit that pitch out of the park, and you’ve automatically earned a spot on the shortlist to follow Iger.
As one of the most impressive media titans in the last quarter century, Iger is obviously entitled to select whomever he wants as president of ESPN, and if he decided in the wake of the Fox acquisition — or at any other time — that person should no longer be John Skipper, so be it. Remember, Skipper’s departure was “mutual.” So if Iger further believed the best way to initiate a transition of leadership would be for Skipper to publicly acknowledge his addiction issue, thereby inoculating the company from any bad news that could surface in the future, one could see how that made sense even if it carried a price tag commensurate with the remainder of Skipper’s contract. This is not to suggest that Skipper’s silence could be bought, but there is no denying his love for and attachment to ESPN. If he was convinced that such a plan was the best path for his colleagues, then writing a goodbye statement and using addiction as the excuse makes perfect sense. Of course, there is also the possibility he had no other choice.
What about Skipper’s future? Last year, the name George Washington came up in a conversation we were having about American history. Skipper nonchalantly asked, “Did you read [David Hackett] Fischer’s book about the crossing? I thought it was better than most.”
Better than most?! Isn’t that the kind of remark one might expect from a college history professor, not from the president of ESPN? But it was, in typical Skippical contradiction, the kind of surprise you’d come to expect from him. Skipper got his master’s degree in literature from Columbia. He knows what acts are in the narrative structure, and it’s a good bet he will want another. The surprises will continue. John Skipper is not to be counted out — at least, not just yet.
The two quarterbacks from Los Angeles, SAM DARNOLD of USC and JOSH ROSEN of UCLA both declared for the draft on Wednesday night.
BILL BARNWELL’S AWARDS
Bill Barnwell of ESPN.com offers up his postseason awards which we have edited somewhat below:
In an often-frustrating, injury-riddled 2017 NFL season, we were still blessed with great players and great plays. We ended up with spectacular drama at the end of the season, when Andy Dalton unexpectedly became a blessed idol in western New York by throwing the Bills into the playoffs from 360 miles away. The delightful return of the long-suffering Bills into the postseason came at the expense of the Ravens, who had a 96.7 percent shot of making the playoffs heading into the day, per ESPN’s Football Power Index, and needed one of three results to go their way. None did.
I’ll get to the playoffs later this week, but for now, let’s look back and fill out an awards ballot for the 2017 season. I made picks for these awards after Week 4 and again at the midpoint of the season in Week 9, so we can see how my selections have changed over the course of this topsy-turvy season. I’m also going to throw in a few awards for fun along the way.
Let’s begin with one of those made-up awards and credit a player who might have had the most shocking season of all in 2017 …
Written-off Player of the Year
I don’t think Case Keenum’s own family would have projected him to finish near the league leaders in any statistical category this season. As recently as Week 11, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer needed to stew on his decision before announcing Keenum as his starter over sentimental favorite Teddy Bridgewater. We all expected the bottom to fall out of Keenum’s remarkable season, but it never did. In a season in which some bemoaned the lack of viable quarterbacks, a guy nobody would have put on a list of franchise quarterbacks before 2017 played like one all season.
Winner: Case Keenum, QB, Minnesota Vikings
Comeback Player of the Year
After Week 4: Earl Thomas, S, Seattle Seahawks
After Week 9: Thomas
Thomas continued to play at a high level, even as seemingly every other Seahawks veteran on the defense around him went down with an injury this season. He didn’t stuffed the stat sheet the way he has in years past, but he (and Bobby Wagner) are the reason Seattle was able to enter Week 17 ranking 11th in defensive DVOA.
As good as Thomas was, what Keenan Allen did over the second half of the season is remarkable. The Chargers wideout led the league in receiving yards from Week 10 on, with 845 yards and five scores. No player converted more third downs than Allen, who generated 30 first downs with no other player converting more than 25.
Winner: Keenan Allen, WR Los Angeles Chargers
Hidden Breakout Rookie of the Year
The brightest light for the 2017 Browns, though, is the guy they chose with the first overall pick. It wouldn’t have been easy to see unless you were a masochist who chose to watch the Browns on a weekly basis, but Myles Garrett is already a superstar.
Winner: Myles Garrett, DE, Cleveland Browns
Defensive Rookie of the Year
After Week 4: Tre’Davious White, CB, Buffalo Bills
After Week 9: White
So, with no other rookie pass-rusher besides Garrett playing well enough to receive votes, this battle comes down to two players: White and Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore. With all due respect to guys like Jamal Adams and Marcus Williams, who have spent the season playing safety at a high level, it would be shocking if one of these two corners didn’t win the award.
This race should be closer than some people make it out to be, if only because availability should matter. Twelve games from Lattimore and four games of P.J. Williams as a starting cornerback isn’t the same thing as 16 games of Lattimore. At the same time, though, Lattimore was playing Pro Bowl-caliber football when he was on the field. He looked like one of the best cornerbacks in the league of any experience level. Even with the missing games, Lattimore has done enough to win this award.
Winner: Marshon Lattimore, CB, New Orleans Saints
Offensive Rookie of the Year
After Week 4: Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
After Week 9: Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
Injuries have culled the field for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Watson went down with a torn ACL in midseason. Dalvin Cook tore his ACL after a promising start. Leonard Fournette carried the Jags during the first half of the season, but injuries (and a one-game team suspension) cost him valuable snaps as the season went along. Top-10 picks Corey Davis, John Ross and Mike Williams combined to miss 29 games and failed to score a single touchdown.
JuJu Smith-Schuster exceeded everyone’s expectations in Pittsburgh and racked up 265 all-purpose yards on Sunday, but forgive me for narrowing the field to the two Pro Bowl rookie running backs in the AFC and NFC. Hunt and Alvin Kamara each punctuated their debut campaigns with big plays on Sunday, as Hunt ran for a 35-yard touchdown just before Kamara took a kickoff return to the house for a 106-yard score, one of two touchdowns he had on the day.
The biggest difference between the two might be timing: Hunt’s biggest games came during Kansas City’s 5-0 start, only for the Toledo product to go quiet before returning to form during the Chiefs’ late-season winning streak. Kamara, meanwhile, got off to a slow start before steadily impacting games in October and November.
Without considering the order in which those yards were gained, a look at the yardage gained from scrimmage by both players is telling. Hunt was a workhorse for the Chiefs, racking up 1,786 all-purpose yards and 11 touchdowns across 326 touches. Kamara, meanwhile, was nearly as productive in a smaller role. He had only 201 touches on offense for the Saints, but they resulted in 1,554 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Kamara’s workload is weighted more heavily toward the passing game, which should result in a better average per touch, but the difference in efficiency is dramatic. To put it in context, heading into Week 17, Kamara had racked up more rushing DYAR than Hunt on 120 fewer carries, and that’s without considering his comfortable lead as a receiver and the work Kamara has done on returns. As much as I would like to avoid recency bias and reward a player who really was the heart of the Chiefs’ offense when it was at its best, Kamara deserves this one.
Winner: Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
Coordinators of the Year
I’ll get to Coach of the Year in the moment, but it still seems a little bizarre that we don’t honor coordinators in an era in which we’re all quite aware of how valuable they can be. At the midway point of the season, I mentioned this award and picked Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash, a holdover from the Gus Bradley administration in Jacksonville. Walsh has done excellent work all season and deserves recognition, but I might also want to credit the Jaguars for staying healthy, given that their top 14 players on defense missed a total of three games all season.
Winners: Dennis Allen, New Orleans Saints, and Pat Shurmur, Minnesota Vikings
Coach of the Year
After Week 4: Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
After Week 9: Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles
Reid dropped out of the picture when his Chiefs pulled the rare Meadowlands sweep in losing to both the Giants and Jets in New Jersey. Pederson’s a top candidate, although some steam has come off his case after Carson Wentz tore his ACL. The Eagles have gone 2-1 over the three ensuing games, but that included narrow victories over the Giants and Raiders and a loss to the Cowboys with Nate Sudfeld at quarterback.
I would ride for Bill Belichick, although he never garners serious consideration for an award despite the fact that we all think he’s the best coach in football. The Patriots finished with the league’s best record despite losing Julian Edelman before the season. Their defense coalesced after a horrible start and continued to improve throughout the season. New England rolled on and even thoughtfully developed a franchise quarterback for the 49ers along the way.
It seems like Sean McVay is the consensus favorite to win this award, though, and I can’t make a strong argument against that.
Winner: Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams
Defensive Player of the Year
After Week 4: DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas Cowboys
After Week 9: Lawrence
This has been the most difficult award to hand out all season, and I don’t think it has gotten much easier. Lawrence was in good shape to come away with the nod after a two-sack performance in Week 13 got him to 13.5 sacks, but he racked up just one sack over the final quarter of the season. It’s tough for a player on a team that didn’t make the playoffs to win a personal award like this unless he blew away the competition, and Lawrence didn’t finish the job with his late-season slump.
There’s a better version of Lawrence’s résumé in Arizona, where Chandler Jones separated from the pack. Jones cleaned up on Sunday in Seattle with a pair of sacks of Russell Wilson, giving the former Patriots star a league-leading 17. Nobody else has more than 14.5. Jones isn’t a foolproof pick, though, because the Cardinals had been toiling in anonymity since November.
If it’s not Jones, though, then it’s a mishmosh of superbly talented players who are likely to split each other’s votes. Can you really pick Calais Campbell (14.5 sacks, three forced fumbles) from the Jaguars over teammate Yannick Ngakoue (12 sacks, six forced fumbles) or shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey? Is Everson Griffen the best player on the Vikings’ defense when Harrison Smith looms at safety? Cameron Jordan or Marshon Lattimore? Joey Bosa or Melvin Ingram?
The strongest standalone case from a contender belongs to Aaron Donald, who was virtually unblockable while racking up 11 sacks and five forced fumbles. Donald also missed the opener and sat out Week 17, which hurts, given that he might have approached the league leaders if he had played well in both games. Cam Heyward (12 sacks and 22 quarterback knockdowns) is in the same league with Donald, although neither has the sort of production that would make them favorites to win this award.
Without the obvious favorite, I think this will end up with a split vote between a few different candidates. It might be overly simplistic, but I don’t think you can go wrong taking the guy who transformed the league’s best defense. Campbell has been a massive two-way force for a decade now, and as much talent as there is in Jacksonville, his presence totally changed the Jags’ defensive line. Ngakoue and Malik Jackson were good last season, but Campbell has helped make the guys around him into stars, too. This is a bit of a lifetime achievement award in some ways, but few players in the NFL have been more underrated or for a longer period of time than the former Cardinals star. No more.
Winner: Calais Campbell, DE, Jacksonville Jaguars
Offensive Player of the Year
After Week 4: Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
After Week 9: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Most Valuable Player
After Week 4: Brady
After Week 9: Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
As always, we have to discuss the two most notable awards in tandem, but there isn’t much to say beyond what I covered last Monday in the two-man race between Brady and Todd Gurley.
The Rams sat Gurley in a meaningless Week 17 loss to the 49ers, which was wise for their playoff chances but prevented Gurley from making a final impression in the MVP race. Brady, meanwhile, was mediocre in a 26-6 victory over the Jets, going 18-of-37 for 190 yards with two touchdowns. He spent most of the day under siege by the Jets’ defense, but Brady also missed a couple of throws, including a would-be touchdown to Brandin Cooks. Neither player added anything to their MVP candidacy, and while there were big games from fringe candidates like Kamara, I don’t think anyone else did enough to enter the picture.
With that in mind, then, I have to fall back on what I said last week. Gurley has been incredible this season as an absolute workhorse for the Rams, but history tells us that modern running backs need to do something historical to win this award, even in a year with no dominant quarterbacks. There is no otherworldly number for Gurley. He finished with 2,093 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns, each of which led the league, but neither ranks in the top 25 all time.
Brady’s soft close to the season didn’t help his case, but he still finishes with the league lead in passing yards (4,577) and ranked in the top five in completion percentage, yards per attempt, passing touchdowns, passer rating and Total QBR. He did this without his most frequent target from 2016 after Edelman tore his ACL, and with Chris Hogan limited to 1 receiving yard after Week 8.
I can’t see giving it to any of the other major quarterbacks, either. Alex Smith was a candidate to be benched in midseason. Drew Brees slipped noticeably and relied heavily on his running game. Wentz was the best QB on the field before tearing his ACL, but there’s not a strong track record for QBs missing three games and still winning the award. Wilson faded in December. Ben Roethlisberger threw 14 picks and was 13th in passer rating. Jared Goff voters would likely steer their votes toward Gurley. Case Keenum deserves consideration and was third on my ballot, but would he really be a better choice than his teammate on the perfect 53-man roster from before the season?
It boils down to this: Unless there’s a completely overwhelming case for a player at another position to win this award, you go with the best quarterback. Gurley’s season doesn’t quite meet that definition to me. I wouldn’t say this was a transcendent Brady season, but like his coach, the Patriots’ quarterback has set the bar artificially high thanks to great football year after year. While it would have been fascinating to see what might have happened if the Patriots had turned their starting job over to Jimmy Garoppolo this offseason, I think Brady’s your 2017 MVP.
Offensive Player of the Year winner: Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
Most Valuable Player winner: Brady