The Daily Briefing Thursday, June 28, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
A big money extension for Vikings DL DANIELLE HUNTER. Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:
Danielle Hunter‘s five-year extension will pay him $72 million, with $40 million in guarantees, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports. The defensive end gets a $15 million signing bonus.
“Danielle has done an outstanding job ever since we’ve drafted him,” Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said, via quotes distributed by the team. “A young, talented football player that works extremely hard, shows the passion for the game, comes to work every day to improve and get better, and has so much more upside to grow into. Just looking forward to getting him locked in and what he’s going to continue to bring not only to this defense and this football team, but also the type of character that he brings to the Minnesota Vikings.”
Hunter, a third-round pick in 2015, became a full-time starter for the first time last season. He made 45 tackles and seven sacks in 2017.
“I kind of came in with the mindset of just playing football,” Hunter said. “I had a whole bunch of people in front of me, older guys that were able to show me the way, good coaches and a good coaching staff. The only thing I could do is just come in here and focus and play football.”
Hunter said it was important to “get this out of the way” before the start of the season because he “didn’t want to be bothered by anything.” He becomes the latest of the team’s defenders to get a long-term deal, and linebacker Anthony Barr is on the list of next in line along with receiver Stefon Diggs.
“We build a bond together on defense,” Hunter said. “We go out there, and we know we’re brothers. We fight together. We do our assignments. On and off the field, we’re really, really close, so it really means a lot [to get so many defenders signed long term].”
Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com is reporting that Minnesota also is hoping to get WR STEFON DIGGS and LB ANTHONY BARR signed to extensions before they become free agents in March.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Bergen County police have their man – and he is the brother of Giants CB JANORIS JENKINS. Aaron Feis of the New York Post:
The ex-con brother of Giants cornerback Janoris Jenkins was charged Wednesday with killing a hip-hop music producer whose body was found at the star football player’s New Jersey home, authorities said Wednesday.
William Jenkins Jr., 34, of Fair Lawn, NJ, was charged with aggravated manslaughter in the death of Roosevelt Rene, 25, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office said on Twitter without releasing any further information.
Jenkins was being held in the Ontario County Jail in Canandaigua, NY, for violating the conditions of his parole, state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision spokesman Thomas Mailey said.
He is expected to be extradited to New Jersey, officials said.
Jenkins was arrested upstate on an outstanding warrant around 1:40 a.m. Tuesday — about nine hours before Rene’s body was discovered at his NFL player brother’s luxury home in Fair Lawn, according to jail records obtained by TMZ Sports.
The body of Rene, a Jenkins family friend, was found in the basement of the 29-year-old athlete’s six-bedroom home while Jenkins was in Florida.
Rene, who produced music under the name Trypps Beatz, had been staying at Jenkins’ home. Jenkins — whose football nickname is “Jackrabbit” and who raps under the name “Rabbit” — reportedly made music with Rene.
The NFL Network reported that police are investigating Rene’s death as a possible strangulation/suffocation incident.
The manner of death will be officially determined by the Bergen County Medical Examiner’s Office following an autopsy.
A rep for Janoris Jenkins did not immediately return a request for comment by The Post, but multiple sources who have talked to him told ESPN — before news broke of his brother’s arrest — that he is “good” and “just waiting for the legal process to play out.”
The football star has been advised by lawyers to remain in Florida, ESPN reported, citing sources.
Jenkins commented on his older brother’s troubled past in an interview with The Post in May 2016 — while William was jailed upstate on drug charges — saying that his sibling “has been incarcerated since I was 14.”
According to New York state prison records, William was locked up in December 2006 on a charge of criminal sale of a controlled substance and sentenced to 3 ¹/₂ years.
He was busted again in April 2011 on charges of criminal sale of a controlled substance and criminal possession of a controlled substance and sentenced to six years in the Livingston Correctional Facility.
William was released on parole on July 18, 2016, records show.
In November 2016, as part of the Interstate Compact for Adult Offenders, William was approved for and has been under New Jersey supervision, DOCCS said.
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A nice move by rookie RB SAQUON BARKLEY. Mark Wogenrich in the Allentown Morning Call:
Saquon Barkley made a promise to his parents that, one day, he would buy them a house. This week, the former Whitehall High and Penn State star proudly showed off the result.
Barkley on Tuesday posted a photo of the Lehigh Valley house he recently purchased for his parents, Alibay Barkley and Tonya Johnson (the address was not included). The two moved from the Bronx to the area when Saquon was 5 years old, ultimately settling in Coplay.
“Something I promised my parents, ever since I was a young kid,” Barkley wrote on Instagram. “Finally be able to achieve that goal is the most amazing feeling. Every kid out there that has a dream continue to keep your head down and work your butt off, great things will come along the way.”
After the New York Giants made Barkley the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft, Barkley’s parents said they intended to remain in the Lehigh Valley. Their youngest children, twins Ali and Aliyah Barkley, attend Whitehall High School.
Barkley has credited his father for pushing him to continue playing football when he wanted to quit and his mother for getting the family out of the Bronx. At Saquon Barkley Day in Coplay this spring, Barkley said he intended to remain close to the area.
“It’s not goodbye,” he said at the parade in March. “I don’t view it that way. I’m about to buy my mom a house. I want my little brother and sister to finish school from there. It’s never going to be goodbye. I’m very appreciative of where I came from, and I know I didn’t get here by myself.”
After the parade, Tonya Johnson said that she hoped to remain in the area for a long time.
“This day shows me that, the day I moved out of New York in 2001, was the best decision I ever made,” Johnson said.
QB NICK FOLES is happy, but he also is indicating he is not an Eagle For Life. Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com:
Nick Foles remains in Philadelphia with a restructured deal. But with Carson Wentz returning, it begs the question of how long the Super Bowl MVP will stay around as a backup?
While promoting his new book, “Believe It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds,” Foles appeared on FS1 sounding as if he expects to play elsewhere by next season.
Many, in fact, are surprised Foles isn’t already a starter somewhere else.
“I would love the opportunity to lead a team,” Foles told Fox Sport’s First Things First morning show. “Now, let me also say this, I’m not just going to go to a team and say, ‘Hey, I want to lead this team,’ and not see where they are. It’s about an environment. . . . So if that does come to be, I want to find the right [place], be with the right team, a team like the Philadelphia Eagles organization. They do it the right way. It’s an amazing locker room with amazing leaders and coaches. I’ve been blessed to be a part of it. That’s why I’m not running away.
“They had me under contract this year. Everyone wanted to know where I was going to be. I’m grateful to be a part of it. They restructured my deal. They wanted me there. I wanted to be there this year. We’ll see what happens after the season, but I’m excited about this 2018 Eagles season. I get to wear that jersey at least one more year, and I’m super excited about wearing it one more year.”
Foles, who has started only seven games over the past two seasons, including three in the 2017 postseason, has developed a friendship with Wentz. He calls it a “great dynamic.”
Thus, Foles is rooting for Wentz to stay healthy — and in the starting lineup — all season. That obviously would leave Foles on the bench all season.
“Carson is a tremendous player,” Foles said. “He’s going to be a great player in this league for a long time. I think just having those open discussions in the locker room, starting with your friendship first and then your teammates and genuinely caring for one another. When he’s out there, he knows I’m not like vying for him to get hurt or something like that. I want him to succeed. I want him to stay healthy the entire season. I want him to have a great career. Even at the expense of me not playing. But that’s where I’ve got to put my ego aside and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s best for the team.’ I can still be a leader in the locker room but just in my lane. That’s very important. It becomes tricky. You know how it is. It gets a little tricky.
“Now we’re going into this season, and everyone’s wanting to know are you going to start the season. We’ll see what happens. But the thing is Carson can get healthy. He knows I’m there. He knows I’m not trying to take it over. I would love to play in Philly the rest of my career. I love the city. But I know that’s not the situation. I want Carson to have an amazing career there, be a legend there. I’m just excited about this season and then we’ll see what happens after that.”
Wentz has targeted the season opener for his return, but Foles gives them a Plan B if Wentz isn’t. The Eagles will have until October 30 to trade Foles.
Foles’ restructured deal includes a mutual option for 2019.
Drew Magary of Deadspin sees a target in Buccaneers management.
Jameis Winston is about to be suspended by the NFL for groping an Uber driver while waiting for food at a Mexican drive-thru. And it’s a very NFL thing that the three-game suspension initially reported by Adam Schefter isn’t necessarily a gimme, because NFL officials have yet to finish inputting all their necessary data into the Roger Goodell Punishment Generator. As with virtually every disciplinary case the Ginger Hammer has presided over, the NFL is endeavoring, with hilarious amounts of time and effort, to properly match the crimes in question to an ideal term of suspension. There is the allegation that Winston grabbed the driver’s crotch. There is the allegation that he was rude in the Uber from the get-go and was shouting homophobic slurs (I can guess which one) at random pedestrians.
And then there is the possibility that Winston (gasp!) lied about all of it, which would really grind Roger’s burrs. That’s the kind of thing that turns a three-game suspension into a 12-game suspension that gets reduced back down to three upon a tertiary appeal to the United States Supreme Court. It is now NFL ritual that these cases only get messier after they’ve been supposedly resolved. But you will excuse me if my attention drifts when this happens with Winston’s case, because Jameis Winston was never worth half a shit to begin with.
No matter how much damage Winston’s coming suspension inflicts upon them, the Buccaneers brought this on themselves. They were covering for Jameis before they even drafted him, going all the way back to his pro day. In fact, prior to the draft, then-coach Lovie Smith openly mused that beating a collegiate rape allegation (with no small help from officials at FSU and local police) was a useful asset for Winston, proving he was tough enough to handle the spotlight of PLAYING QUARTERBACK IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBAW LEAGUE:
“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room,” Smith told three local reporters before addressing the national media Wednesday at the NFL scouting combine. “He’s been accused of a crime. There’s an allegation. I have faith in our court system. He went through it. He went through the school justice system, and he was cleared. He went through our court system and he was cleared, exonerated (NOTE: Though charges were dropped, Winston and his accuser reached an undisclosed civil settlement)… I think he’s told us an awful lot with how he’s handled it,” Smith said. “It’s not like he’s getting ready to go into the NFL and scrutiny is coming his way. He’s gone through it a couple years now and he’s answered the bell.”
And they’ve carried water for him ever since. If having to serve as Winston’s Sarah Huckabee Sanders ever bothered the Bucs, there’s no evidence of it. They raved about Winston’s leadership. They bragged to the media about Winston burning the midnight oil and having his playbook on him at all times. They made him the centerpiece of Hard Knocks. They named him a team captain. When Lovie Smith underperformed, his reward for all that knob-polishing was a pink slip in favor of a more offensive-minded coach to help serve Winston. Other players on the team even offered up inane platitudes about Winston’s work in “the community.”
This was far more than your standard, automated NFL franchise PR, where every soon-to-be-cut player turns heads at minicamp and every terminally injured player feels better than he ever has. This was a concerted, ongoing effort to rebrand Winston, to build him up and make him more respectable to the viewing public. They sold Winston as someone he never was, all so that the fans and the media and the brands never had to feel like they were making any kind of moral compromise in supporting him.
For three years, the Bucs have tried to will Winston’s supposed maturity into existence, telling everyone he’s a natural leader and a football savant despite there being little evidence—on or off the field—of such growth. It’s fucking embarrassing, and what’s even more embarrassing, but hardly surprising, is that a great number of people in the NFL media actually bought it. His rape case, now resting comfortably in a box marked THE PAST and sitting in the corner of an attic somewhere in Tallahassee, was rarely mentioned on TV, and certainly never in great detail. His entreaty to little girls to be “silent, polite, and gentle” got explained away by The Undefeated, of all places.
Meanwhile, the only thing that has been consistent about Winston is that his accusers are far more credible than he has ever been. In three years of playing quarterback, he has been an average to slightly-above-average passer whose turnovers are nearly as bizarre and idiotic as his off-the-field transgressions. He’s had one winning season. Anointed as a leader, he has strained and failed in the role, as evidenced here:
Judging by the story of the Uber driver, identified only as Kate, Winston’s off-the-field development has also been one grand lie, built out of nothing. Again, there was already plenty of evidence BEFORE the draft that making Winston the face of their franchise would be a colossal mistake. The rape case. The crab legs. “Fuck her in the pussy!” “Show ne [sic] da boobies,” etc. Did the Bucs give a shit? Reader, they did not. Everyone is entitled to be young and dumb. But Winston’s transgressions at FSU suggested that he was a lousy person and not merely an immature one: a terminal dipshit enabled and emboldened by authority figures, all of whom had more interest in whitewashing his sins than actively addressing them.
So here the Bucs are, stuck with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB to begin the 2018 season and on the hook for an extra $20.9 million if they decide to keep Winston around for 2019. The team has yet to make a statement about Winston’s case, although I can assure you that his formal punishment will come with a stern letter from Goodell and a Certificate of Badness stamped with his signature. The Bucs could divest themselves of Winston for this if they chose to. But my guess is that they won’t. My guess is that they will profess vague “disappointment” in the outcome, and then keep Winston around and try to make it work. He’s a young man, you guys. He’s learned his lesson. We think he’s still got a lot of potential. It’ll probably sound a lot like the same excuses you heard for Winston years and years ago, and it’ll prove what nearly all of these cases prove: that it’s not merely the player who needs to grow the — up.
And here is a diagnosis from Dr. Keyshawn Johnson recounted by Jaclyn Hendricks in the New York Post:
Jameis Winston’s friend may have his back, but former Buccaneers receiver Keyshawn Johnson is raising an eyebrow.
Addressing the Tampa Bay quarterback, who is accused of groping a female Uber driver, Johnson, who played four seasons with the Buccaneers from 2000-03, alleged Winston’s troubles are internally routed.
“When I saw [the Winston report] I thought, ‘Man, you just can’t stay out of trouble.’ And there’s something, and I’m not a doctor, nor do I plan on being, but there’s something wrong with you,” Johnson said on the Los Angeles-based KSPN-AM 710, per JoeBucsFan.com.
“If this is in fact true, the fact that you keep coming up with some type of sexual behavioral problems towards women, there’s something wrong mentally. I don’t care what anyone says. There’s something wrong.”
Rest easier Colts fans, QB ANDREW LUCK thinks he will be ready for training camp. Dave Calabro reporting for WTHR.com in Fort Wayne:
It’s summer time and as everyone plans their vacations, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is busy working summer camps.
Luck was in Fort Wayne Monday for the fifth “Change The Play” kids camp with Riley Health at the University of St. Francis. While the quarterback could be on a beach relaxing or making vacation plans, he said it’s important to give back to the children.
“Absolutely. It really is. One, I’ve always enjoyed being around kids. I think as professional athletes we have a platform and we can have a positive message, a negative message, some type of message comes off of that and so I’m thrilled to still be partnering with Riley Health on this and try to have a positive impact on some kids,” Luck said.
For more than a year, Colts fans have watched Luck’s rehabilitation from injury closely, wondering if he was ready to start throwing again. He threw some during the team’s recent OTA workouts and was back at it tossing passes to campers Monday.
“I feel great. Right on the path I want to be. I’ll be out here throwing at some kids today, hanging out, it’s been a long winding road, certainly some parts have been very, very frustrating. But I’m sort of done looking back and looking forward and I feel very, very optimistic. I’m so excited for this season, excited for this season and excited to be a Colt,” he said.
Luck told Eyewitness News sports director Dave Calabro he’ll be ready to go when training camp starts late next month.
“I’m convinced I’ll be ready for training camp, but I’m not going out throwing 150 balls a day. There will be a plan. I’ve talked with Coach (Frank) Reich and our medical staff and training staff and I feel very, very confident about that plan. The goal obviously is to play each game as best I can,” Luck said.
Now 28, Luck said he doesn’t feel like he’s “racing against the clock,” even after losing an entire season last year.
THIS AND THAT
RANKING THE COACHES
An annual mid-summers treat from Elliot Harrison of NFL.com:
Front men. That’s what NFL head coaches have become. Gone are the days of assistants doing TV interviews. GMs rarely take the mic, unless it’s at league meetings. Head coaches are THE face of the product, attached to successes and pitfalls in a way that perhaps only real front men can understand. Guys like Axl Rose, Mick Jagger and whoever those brothers were from Oasis. Lions fan Kid Rock doesn’t count. But while we’re here … Detroit features a new front man: Matt Patricia, one of seven new coaches — the group that makes these annual NFL Head Coach Power Rankings a slippery undertaking. (Patricia also looks like he could play bass for Metal Church.) How do you rate coaches who’ve never done the job? How do those who have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy stack up? And what about Doug Pederson, who pulled it off as a sophomore? Answers below. Your take is not, so send along: @HarrisonNFL is the place.
1) Bill Belichick, New England Patriots
It is not an exaggeration to claim that Belichick is possibly the greatest head coach in NFL history, much less in the league today. He’s won five Super Bowls while coaching his team to a record eight appearances. Oh, did I mention that Belichick won two more rings as the top young defensive coordinator in the NFL in 1986 and 1990? And he was also a key defensive assistant under Bill Parcells when the Patriots made it to Super Bowl XXXI. What a catalog.
2) Sean Payton, New Orleans Saints
Don’t be surprised. Sean Payton is one of just eight head coaches on this list with a Super Bowl ring. Going beyond that, Payton pulled off the rare feat of reaching the postseason (and winning there) after embracing a major philosophical shift, from a Drew Brees-centric team to one that relied on its running backs and defense. Payton was on the verge of another NFC Championship Game this past January … before his Saints were hit by a Lake Minnetonka miracle.
3) Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks
Few coaches have enjoyed the kind of success in the salary cap era that Carroll has with the Seahawks. Moreover, last year represented a “down” year for Seattle — you know, when the Seahawks only went 9-7. Don’t forget Carroll’s two postseason appearances as the Patriots’ front man in 1997 and ’98, or is fine work as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator. In 1995, his unit led the NFL in total defense. Fun fact.
4) Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers are always in contention. And Tomlin has shepherded Pittsburgh to two Super Bowl appearances — and a total of eight postseasons — in 11 years on the job. The key to Tomlin’s success is not X’s-and-O’s handiwork — it’s getting his players to play for him. A testament to that ability is how his team has stayed viable even when key parts (like Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell) haven’t been available.
5) John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens
For whatever reason, Harbaugh is never mentioned among the NFL’s elite head coaches. While the Ravens haven’t enjoyed a ton of success over the past three seasons, mitigating circumstances have played a huge role. Massive injuries derailed the 2016 campaign, and yet Baltimore might have taken the division if it weren’t for an Immaculate Extension on Christmas. Last season, the Ravens were again beset by scores of injuries — starting with the season-ender to all-world guard Marshal Yanda — but still would’ve made the postseason field if it wasn’t for that meddling Andy Dalton.
6) Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
Admittedly, McCarthy is difficult to place on this list. He has profited from having both Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers under center. On the other hand, Favre saw an uptick in his performance when the Packers went from Mike Sherman to McCarthy. And the latter deserves a parcel of credit for Rodgers’ development from backup to one of the game’s elite. Without Rodgers for the majority of 2017, Green Bay failed to make the playoffs, with an ugly end to the season. But for the most part, they were competitive with Brett Hundley until mid-December. There aren’t many head coaches in NFL history who’ve won big with a certifiable backup, so let’s not be too hard on McCarthy.
7) Andy Reid, Kansas City Chiefs
Reid has won consistently and has a large body of work, with the only true blemish on his record being the lack of a Super Bowl ring. The Chiefs head coach was able to shift Kansas City’s offense last season (with help from Matt Nagy), providing K.C. with both an effective ground game and vertical pass offense. Especially crucial when you factor in the sub-mediocre performance from the defense. Reid will have to change up the attack again with Patrick Mahomes taking over for a steady vet like Alex Smith.
8) Doug Pederson, Philadelphia Eagles
Winning the most recent Super Bowl sure doesn’t hurt. Pederson managed what could have been a calamitous situation — MVP-in-waiting Carson Wentz going down late in the regular season — and produced a winner with journeyman Nick Foles at the helm. Pederson’s trust in his players, and the confidence he placed in Foles, cannot be underestimated. He became the first head coach since Mike Tomlin in 2008 to win the Lombardi Trophy before his third year on the job.
9) Jon Gruden, Oakland Raiders
You thought Gruden would be higher, right? As storied as his initial 11-year run as a head coach was (check that — it somehow became mythical), the former color analyst was, well, doing color for the last decade. During the nine seasons Gruden has been off the sidelines, the game has changed. A lot. Player-safety rules, spread offense and situational defense have all morphed strategy. That’s not to say Gruden can’t successfully navigate these developments. He took the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game once (should have been twice, for tuck’s sake), and won a Super Bowl with the Bucs. Then again, he produced a losing record (45-51) over his last six years in Tampa.
10) Mike Zimmer, Minnesota Vikings
Zimmer proved his mettle once again last season, leading the Vikings to an NFC Championship Game appearance despite losing his starting quarterback and tailback early in the season. Even without Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook, Minnesota won the NFC North with ease. Zimmer rode a fine season from Case Keenum, while keeping the media from building up his backup QB too much. Managing the locker room, as well as building a championship-level defense, are two big reasons Zimmer is in the top 10 on this list.
11) Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons
Following up a Super Bowl berth with a win in the postseason keeps Quinn in the discussion as one of the top head coaches in the NFL. The Falcons didn’t fold last year, despite suffering what might be the most painful loss in Super Bowl history. Atlanta won on the road in Wild Card Weekend, then came a ball through Julio Jones’ grasp from reaching the NFC Championship Game. Quinn has surely surpassed Arthur Blank and Thomas Dimitroff’s expectations, given the state of affairs following the 2014 season.
12) Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers
Rivera actually could be higher on this list, given his accomplishments to date: Two-time AP Coach of the Year, a Super Bowl appearance and an overall record that currently sits 17 games north of .500. The competition gets pretty tough toward the top 10, and fair or not, the perception of Cam Newton as a one-man band persists. A Super Bowl win, or succeeding sans his franchise quarterback, would nudge Rivera even higher.
13) Sean McVay, Los Angeles Rams
McVay deserves this high of a ranking after only one season due to the Rams’ instant turnaround and the savvy development of Jared Goff. The No. 1 overall pick in 2016 performed miserably in miserable circumstances during his rookie campaign, but under McVay’s tutelage (and leadership), Goff tossed 28 touchdown passes against a minuscule seven interceptions. As impressive: McVay’s poise in the postgame, assuming accountability for losses while deflecting credit after the team’s 11 wins. He’s already put his stamp on the franchise.
14) Doug Marrone, Jacksonville Jaguars
Could Marrone be the most underrated head coach in the league? He belongs in the top half of this list not only because of the Jags’ near-Super Bowl run, but also due to what he accomplished in Buffalo. People forget that Marrone went 9-7 in 2014 before he left the team by his own volition — a decision he now admits was misguided. Despite being an offensive lineman by trade, Marrone’s teams have been defensive in nature. His first year in Buffalo, the Bills went from 22nd to 10th in team defense. The next year they were fourth. Last year, Jacksonville finished second. Marrone might not be drawing up complex schemes, but his hard-nosed approach has rubbed off on his teams. These aren’t your older brother’s Jaguars.
15) Jason Garrett, Dallas Cowboys
Fans and analysts alike have trouble evaluating Garrett’s performance through seven and a half seasons as the Cowboys’ head coach. The perception is that owner/GM Jerry Jones has always pulled the strings, even seeping down into the manner in which Garrett coaches his team. That may or may not be true, but as more time passes from the end of Tony Romo era, people might wonder why the Cowboys didn’t win more with a top-10 quarterback. Last year, Dallas went 9-7, but the team fell apart during Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension.
16) Bill O’Brien, Houston Texans
O’Brien resides at the middle of the pack, which feels about right. The Texans head coach just tasted his first losing season, with Houston darn-near unable to win a game once Deshaun Watson went down. What’s ironic is that O’Brien had been heralded for being able to put together multiple winning seasons without stellar quarterback play. Tom Savage and the offense were uninspiring under O’Brien in the second half of the season. The 2018 campaign will loom large in determining O’Brien’s place on this list — and standing in Houston.
17) Anthony Lynn, Los Angeles Chargers
Impressive debut for Lynn in Los Angeles last year. He’s only 17th because he has just one season under his belt. Without a playoff appearance, placing him over Sean McVay or Doug Pederson wasn’t happening. Yet, neither of those coaches were forced to deal with motivating a team that was clearly second sister in a town that’s lukewarm about its pro football. Won’t be surprised to see it get warmer if/when Lynn leads the Chargers to the playoffs.
18) Jay Gruden, Washington Redskins
Gruden’s time in the league sure has been eventful. The RGIII debacle, taking Washington to the postseason, then watching the Kirk Cousins franchise-tag soap opera take place every offseason … It’s all contributed to make Gruden’s time with the Redskins quite stressful. As did last season’s injury parade, which torpedoed any hopes of Washington making the most of Cousins’ swan song with the organization. Sympathy for that completely decimated offensive line, and experience, are the only reasons Gruden sits above McDermott on this list. Can’t wait to see how this offensive-minded coach works with Alex Smith.
19) Sean McDermott, Buffalo Bills
With only a single season of head coaching, 19th is not a bad place to be for McDermott — not with all the successful veteran head coaches in the league right now. The biggest feather in his Bills ballcap is the fact that he pushed this franchise back into meaningful January football for the first time since the Music City Miracle. Some folks think that was a miracle in and of itself. The lone blemish was the ill-fated decision to start Nate Peterman over a healthy Tyrod Taylor in Los Angeles. It almost cost Buffalo that much-coveted wild-card spot. McDermott has his work cut out for him with Taylor gone and Peterman competing with AJ McCarron and rookie Josh Allen for the starting spot.
20) Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
This spot is more a reflection of the direction the Bengals have been trending — and the situation surrounding Lewis. Cincinnati’s longtime head coach has yet to win a postseason game and he’s logged a losing mark in each of the last two seasons. While still over .500 for his career (125-112-3 since taking over in 2003), Lewis has been afforded more organizational patience than any coach in this era. This is not to suggest that Lewis didn’t completely turn around an ailing franchise that sucked throughout the ’90s, but Cincy fans deserve a postseason run. Perhaps no coach needs a successful 2018 season more than Lewis.
21) Adam Gase, Miami Dolphins
Gase might just be the least-talked-about coach in the business. Not that that’s undeserved, per se. He does sit at 16 up, 16 down after two years in the big leagues. He surprisingly took the Dolphins to the playoffs in his first year, but Miami fell back below sea level in 2017. There was the weird Ryan Tannehill injury situation. Then the weirder Jay Cutler signing. And of course, the Dolphins had season tickets to the Matt Moore experience. The organization performed a little house cleaning this offseason, and welcomes back Tannehill with open arms and healthy knees. Can Gase impart his offensive wisdom on a unit that no longer has Jarvis Landry at its beck and call? If not with Tannehill, maybe Gase can call John Beck to come back. Or Cleo Lemon. Chet Lemon. Never mind.
22) Todd Bowles, New York Jets
I was thoroughly impressed with how the Jets competed last season. But still, Bowles’ team only won five games. For the second year in a row. Thus, it’s challenging placing Bowles higher than 22. Yet, his job should be safe, with a rookie quarterback in Sam Darnold and the feisty nature with which New York competed while Josh McCown was healthy. McCown’s back, too, and should be the player-coach to Bowles’ coach-coach, providing leadership to his younger teammates in and out of the quarterback room.
23) Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco 49ers
There are a few head coaches included in this league pecking order who are quite tough to evaluate. Shanahan is front and center in that regard, as he took over a team offering both upside and a host of potential growing pains. The 49ers also had no quarterback until Jimmy Garoppolo came on board. San Francisco started winning at that point. So, was the five-game winning streak all Jimmy G, or does Shanahan deserve praise for catering his system to the young quarterback? Leaning toward the latter, but we need more volume than one third of a season to evaluate.
24) Matt Patricia, Detroit Lions
Patricia deserves much credit for the way the Patriots’ defense responded to a rocky start in 2017. After allowing a whopping 128 points through the first four weeks of the season, New England hunkered down — giving up just 168 points over the last 12 games of the regular season. What an improvement. The Patriots finished first in scoring defense in 2016, an integral factor in the franchise’s fifth Lombardi lift. In fact, Patricia’s defenses finished in the top 10 in points allowed during each of his six seasons as DC. Now, name the impact players he had on defense in New England? Right. Patricia will have an impact player at the most important position in football this year in Matt Stafford, which is partially why he ranks higher than the other rookie head coaches on this list. (Yes, I’m projecting a bit.)
25) Matt Nagy, Chicago Bears
Nagy is the second-highest ranked of the first-time head coaches. Part of the reasoning is the situation he inherits. I’m bullish on the Bears, and from the looks of Mitch Trubisky’s play last year, it seems a quarterback guru (or at least someone who will bring his talent out of him) is precisely the right fit for what the organization needs now. Nagy was a well-respected quarterbacks coach (and, for a season, offensive coordinator) in Kansas City. He jump-started a deep passing game with Alex Smith behind the wheel, something thought not possible before. In doing so, Nagy improved upon the work of Brad Childress and Doug Pederson (you know, the guy who just won the Super Bowl). Nagy could be this year’s Sean McVay, even if in lesser form.
26) Frank Reich, Indianapolis Colts
This might seem to be a low ranking for Reich, who just picked up a much-sought-after Super Bowl ring last season. (Reminder: Reich had to watch from the sidelines for the bulk of all those Bills Super Bowl losses.) But 26 is actually not that low when you figure that only two newbie head coaches are ahead of him on this list, and Andrew Luck’s status is still murky. Reich was instrumental in pushing both Carson Wentz and the Eagles’ offense to soaring heights. His temperament should fit well with a Colts organization that is playing the long game. The main question mark for this former quarterback is the overall health of his current quarterback.
27) Pat Shurmur, New York Giants
Shurmur’s run in Cleveland didn’t go as planned. Those were the Brandon Weeden/Trent Richardson Browns, if you are scoring at home, with some young Colt McCoy sprinkled in for good measure. Shurmur last walked the sidelines as a head coach for one game as an interim front man, after Chip Kelly was fired in Philly. (Shurmur did win that game.) Now he inherits a Giants offense that has been retooled, with a shiny new back (Saquon Barkley) and some notable O-line turnover. Not to mention, a healthy Odell Beckham Jr. and a hopefully-rejuvenated Eli Manning. Shurmur earned much kudos for his exemplary work running the Vikings’ offense sans Dalvin Cook, including building on Case Keenum’s strengths. But the lower ranking stems from his poor record thus far.
28) Dirk Koetter, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Koetter battled through a trying 2017 season that saw the Bucs disappoint. His kicking games did him no favors. Nor will Jameis Winston’s suspension. Tampa’s poor 5-11 record combined with the situation Koetter inherits to begin 2018 (Fitzmagic, everyone) places him 28th. Koetter must reproduce what made him a strong offensive coordinator in Jacksonville: Running the football never goes out of style. Sure will help if Ronald Jones II can be a Maurice Jones-Drew or Fred Taylor.
29) Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans
With no head-coaching experience, Vrabel wasn’t bound to rank high. What Vrabel does have is experience in all facets of the game, from being a mid-tier free agent to a key cog in the Patriots’ three Super Bowl teams in the early 2000s. Don’t forget coaching linebackers and running the defense in Houston. Now Vrabel will be running the show in Tennessee. The folks in Nashville — namely GM Jon Robinson — feel he is ready for this opportunity. Nobody blames Vrabel for the Texans’ regression last season, seeing how J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus both suffered season-ending injuries on his defense, while the offense sputtered once Deshaun Watson went down. This Tennessee gig won’t be much easier, as the immediate expectation for Vrabel will be playoffs. After all, it’s not often a head coach gets run out of town after making the postseason (and even winning a game once there).
30) Vance Joseph, Denver Broncos
The Broncos took a step back in every phase last season — but especially on defense, Joseph’s area of expertise. Some of that can be blamed on an anemic offense that kept the defense on the field far too long, though Joseph wasn’t able to get nearly as much out of his team as his predecessor. He and Steve Wilks are similar in that each coached defensive backs for years, with only one year as a DC before becoming a head coach. In theory, Joseph learned much from the pitfalls of his initial season, so he has an edge in understanding the demands of the job. How much understanding he’ll receive from John Elway is another matter.
31) Steve Wilks, Arizona Cardinals
Like the other first-year head coaches, Wilks is devoid much experience. Like Nagy and Vrabel, Wilks became a coordinator for the first time last year. The reason he is lower, however, is the situation he inherits. (Yes, again, this list does do some projecting on future success.) Arizona lost both Carson Palmer and the Tyrann Mathieu this offseason, and so much of the Cardinals’ mentality was built around that of their former beret-wearin’ head coach. Whereas Nagy is matched with a young quarterback — a situation perfect for his skill set — the defensive-minded Wilks will presumably lean on his staff to augment Josh Rosen’s game (not Rosen’s ego). Meanwhile, Vrabel took over a playoff team that beat Nagy’s Chiefs in the Wild Card Round.
32) Hue Jackson, Cleveland Browns
Rarely would a head coach with as much experience as Jackson be listed last. No coach in NFL history has gone 1-31 over two seasons, either. Was it all his fault? No. Yet, much of coaching is coaxing the best football out of your players, even if your roster is thinner on talent than others. Bill Parcells took the Cowboys to the playoffs in 2003 with Quincy Carter and Troy Hambrick in the backfield. Doug Marrone took the Jags from 3-13 to the AFC Championship Game.
Having Mike McCarthy (6) and John Harbaugh (5) still ahead of Doug Pederson (8) and Sean McVay (13) seems to indicate these ratings don’t respond much to current trends.
THE HELMET RULE
NFL players and coaches are wondering exactly how the NFL’s officials will call the new helmet rule. Dom Cosentino of Deadspin.
Last month, the NFL approved a rule that strictly defines what players are permitted to do with their helmets, in the name of player safety. It’s pretty much a given that the rule is going to create some chaos, at least initially. But it might also portend a fundamental change in how the game is played.
The rule is narrowly drawn, in an attempt to leave little room for ambiguity, which has been something of a problem with college football’s decade-old targeting rule. The NFL’s rule now reads, with remarkable simplicity, “It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.”
It will be classified as unnecessary roughness, which carries a 15-yard penalty. The only additional explanation provided by the rule book is this, with strike-throughs denoting the language that’s been excised:
So: No player can lower his head to make contact, and using any part of a helmet to “butt, spear, or ram an opponent” is verboten, regardless of intent or impact. As for what might constitute an ejection…
For additional clarity, the league put out a video that shows different plays that will be deemed illegal, along with examples of hits that will warrant an ejection, which will be subject to video reviews to be done by the centralized command center in New York City.
With this rule, the NFL is attempting to avoid the over-legislated confusion it created with all the additions made through the years to the catch rule, which never could keep up with the infinite potential movements of the human body. By drawing the helmet rule so narrowly, the NFL is trying to discourage the sort of plays like the one that injured Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier last year. But depending on how strictly it’s enforced, it might also prohibit any number of prosaic football maneuvers, too. Offensive players with the ball often lead with their helmets to either fight for extra yardage or to brace themselves for oncoming contact. This is especially true for quarterback sneaks. And on every play, offensive and defensive linemen tend to smack helmets as a matter of course.
Jim Daopoulos, a former NFL official who also spent 12 years supervising the officials, has no idea how the officials are even expected to enforce the rule. “It’s going to be a tough situation for them to police,” Daopoulos told me.
Dean Blandino, another former head of officiating now working as a Fox Sports rules analyst, agreed. “The challenge with this rule, just like the crown-of-the-helmet rule that went in in 2013, is how can the official at full-speed officiate that consistently?”
The simple language of this year’s helmet rule replaces the 2013 crown-of-the-helmet rule.
The crown-of-the-helmet rule was “something that really wasn’t a point of emphasis,” Blandino said. “It wasn’t officiated.” That this year’s rule will supersede it can be read as a signal that the league intends to emphasize the rule’s application. But how? Helmets get lowered to initiate contact on pretty much every play.
“The game happens so fast,” Blandino said. “So they’re going to have to differentiate between whether it’s an incidental contact, or, say it’s a running back that’s trying to protect himself and brace for contact versus actually delivering a blow with the helmet.”
The officials have a process that will allow them to educate themselves on the rule’s application, Blandino explained. Some of that will transpire during the annual officials’ clinic scheduled for next month. Some will take place during the preseason games, when there likely will be lots of flags thrown, just as there were back in 2014, when tighter rules against illegal contact and defensive holding went into effect. And some of that will probably bleed into the regular season. The officials will largely be learning on the fly, and flagging—at least initially—only the most egregious examples.
“They have a couple of clear-cut examples, and there’s going to be some gray area, and I think what the officials will be told is if there’s a question, don’t throw your flag and then they’ll deal with it during the week, and they can certainly fine the players and then use that as examples, to show the officials, ‘Hey this is a foul,’” Blandino said.
Enforcement at the line of scrimmage is what’s likely to create the most consternation. In a presentation to the media at last month’s league meetings, NFL senior vice president for officiating Al Riveron told reporters this:
What if a defensive lineman coming out of his stance initiates contact with his head? “Can’t do it. He’s got to get his head up.”
“This is the thing that’s going to make officiating so difficult,” Daopoulos told me. “We know the situations where a player just basically launches and leads with his helmet and hits [a ballcarrier]—you can understand, that happens sometimes out there. But when you have two linemen—and I was an umpire, which basically was behind the defensive line—they’re like two rams charging each other. Now are you going to eject both players? I just don’t seem to feel that’s very feasible. I think they’re going to do a lot of discussing over the next couple of months.”
Said Blandino: “They haven’t really touched on the linemen yet, at least in the videos; I think they’re still trying to figure that out, and I think that’s going to be tough to do, with all the contact that happens in close line play.”
Daopoulos also wondered about the video review process for ejections. Last year, we saw how central command’s interpretation of the catch rule only sowed more confusion. It’s not hard to envision something similar happening with the helmet rule. “I think they’re going down a slippery slope with this,” Daopoulos said. “You’ve got guys up in the replay booth that have never been on a football field in the NFL making those types of decisions. I understand that they know their stuff about replay and all, but you’ve got to have a feel for the game. When things happen out there and they happen so quickly, it’s hard to differentiate between, ‘Hey, that’s a foul, and I’m going to eject him,’ or, ‘Man, that’s just a good football play.’”
Geoff Schwartz, who played eight seasons as an NFL offensive lineman, sees the helmet rule as the possible start of something that could completely change the game. Yes, past rule changes—to protect quarterbacks and defenseless receivers, plus the crown-of-the-helmet rule—were greeted with similar reactions, and the sky never fell. But if the league is indeed intent on enforcing a rule against leading with the helmet when linemen collide? That’s new territory entirely.
“I think we’re eventually going to go to where there’s not going to be a three-point stance anymore,” Schwartz told me. “Everyone’s just going to have to be up, because that seems to be the way that they want this to go. I just worry that that change will fundamentally change the game.”
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk has made this point, too. The three-point stance has been a fundamental part of line play since it was first introduced in the late 19th century. As Schwartz explained, the stance is used because it helps both offensive and defensive linemen create leverage and power. But firing up out of a three-point stance invariably involves using one’s helmet to either power through an opponent or holding one’s ground. Without it, a whole lot changes—including the likelihood of the sub-concussive blows that studies have shown can contribute to long-term brain trauma. But the game itself will have to change, too.
“Run blocking would be supremely easier if the defense was not in a three-point stance,” Schwartz said. “It would just lead to more scoring, which is what they want.”
The NFL has openly pondered the possibility of eliminating the three-point stance in the past. As far back as February 2010, in the wake of the league being shamed by Congress for its distortion of the science of brain trauma, commissioner Roger Goodell mused out loud about banning it. Those were heady days; the league was staring at the certainty of litigation and looking to slough as much liability as possible onto the players themselves. That’s still true, but players today are much more aware of the risks and more willing to self-report head injuries than they might have been in the past. “There’s no way you can play now and claim you didn’t know that there are possible side effects of playing in the NFL, or playing college football, or whatever it may be,” Schwartz said.
The game might already be changing anyway. This decade has seen the gradual development of pass-heavy offenses, along with the proliferation of spreading the field, pre-snap motion, read-options, run-pass options, mesh concepts, and lots of play-action. The NFL is becoming more and more wide open because that’s the way the high school and college games that are developing its players have been trending. Last year’s Super Bowl may have been the best example yet of the direction of modern football.
“Look, we also always do complain every time there’s a rule change, and the game just continues to play on,” Schwartz said. “So maybe we’re freaking out for no reason.”
More from Mike Florio:
After PFT provided its two cents on the apparent expansion of the Unnecessary Roughness rule to prohibit ramming, butting, or spearing with the helmet in a necessary and/or non-rough way, the NFL provided to PFT a separate codification of the new helmet rule.
It will appear in Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8, and it will read as follows: “Use of the Helmet. It is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent.” The rule calls for a loss of 15 yards, an automatic first down (if committed by the defense), and possible disqualification for the player who commits the foul.
This effort to clarify the rule actually creates more confusion, apart from the fact that the league office has now identified two different rules to two different media outlets as the codification of the new helmet rule. Although Rule 12-2-8 surely represents the official rule (since it tracks the precise language of the 11th-of-10 proposals made by the Competition Committee in March), the modification to the Unnecessary Roughness rule can’t be ignored.
For example Rule 12-2-8 expressly applies only when a player lowers his helmet and initiates contact. The new Unnecessary Roughness rule contains no such limitations, encompassing generally any an and all spearing, ramming, or butting with any part of the helmet, with no requirement that the action be unnecessary or violent.
The combination arguably creates far broader prohibitions than the new helmet rule alone, pulling players who spear, ram, or butt in a non-violent and necessary way without lowering the helmet and without initiating contact within the range of a potential foul.
So, yes, it’s got the potential to be a mess. In large part because it already is a mess. And depending on how the rule is applied, it could be the biggest single change to the game of football since the legalization of the forward pass.
And if you think that’s an exaggeration, give me one rule that has had a greater impact on every aspect of the game than the new helmet rule could have.
We don’t think it is a coincidence that four referees have retired this year, two before their time. It will be much easier for three of them to talk about the NFL’s struggles interpreting the rule than actually making rulings.