The Daily Briefing Wednesday, January 10, 2018
AROUND THE NFL
Peter King with an overview of where the NFL’s head coaching searches are going.
• Coaching stuff. In Detroit, I hear Pats defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is the choice over Houston’s defensive boss, Mike Vrabel—but Patricia favors the Giants. If the Giants give the nod to Patricia, Detroit could be Vrabel’s job. … New Chicago coach Matt Nagy got hot at the end of the season, and Colts GM Chris Ballard—the former Chiefs director of player personnel who knew Nagy well—also was smitten with him. … Indy would seem a good fit for Pats offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. … Players love Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who interviewed with the Giants on Tuesday, and he could be the calming guy to fix a divided and mercenary New York team. Plus, he wouldn’t balk at GM Dave Gettleman picking the team’s long-term quarterback. … Arizona is wide open. Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur could be in play there, or with the Giants.
Just as the 49ers did with Kyle Shanahan, the Bears went ahead and hired as head coach an OC who couldn’t hold a lead in a playoff game. At least, Matt Nagy admits his playcalling stunk against the Titans. Peter King:
• Good for Matt Nagy. The new Bears coach gets an A from me for candor, admitting his failure in play-calling in the 22-21 playoff loss to Tennessee. The NFL rushing king this year, Kareem Hunt, had five carries in the last 48 minutes of the game, and the Chiefs blew an 18-point lead at home to an inferior team. “I was numb for a lot of the night for so many different reasons,” Nagy said. “I called every single play in the second half. For me, that was a failure in my book … I stand by it. I promise you I’m going to learn from it.” That shouldn’t, and obviously didn’t, eliminate Nagy, 39, from GM Ryan Pace’s wish list. One game shouldn’t do that. Nagy will be a good tutor for Mitchell Trubisky.
The new DC in Green Bay will be Mike Pettine. Daniel Rapoport of TheMMQB.com:
The Packers are set to hire Mike Pettine as their defensive coordinator, reports ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Pettine, 51, was defensive coordinator of the Jets (2009-12) and Bills (2013) before he became the Browns’ head coach prior to the 2014 season. He went 7-9 in his first year in Cleveland but was fired after a 3-13 season in 2015. He worked this season as a consultant for the Seahawks.
Pettine replaces Dom Capers, who was fired after spending nine seasons as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator. He joins a new-look Packers staff, as head coach Mike McMcarthy has shaken things up after Green Bay missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett will not return to the team, and many of his duties are expected to be taken up by Joe Philbin. Philbin previously spent nine years with Green Bay—including five as offensive coordinator—before he left in 2012 to become the Dolphins’ head coach. Also departing Green Bay are quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt and Luke Getsy, who left to become the offensive coordinator at Mississippi.
Todd Archer of ESPN.com tackles the question of whether WR DEZ BRYANT can bounce back:
As the Dallas Cowboys figure out what went wrong in 2017 and what they hope can go right in 2018, they have to answer the Dez Bryant question.
Make no mistake, there is a question that needs to be answered.
“That’s one, obviously, that we’ll be looking at,” executive vice president Stephen Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas two days after the season ended when asked about Bryant’s future.
Bryant is signed with the Cowboys through 2019. He is due base salaries of $12.5 million in 2018 and ’19 and will count $16.5 million against the salary cap in each season. If the Cowboys cut Bryant, they can save $8.5 million against the cap and be in the clear, from a cap perspective, going into 2019, or they can designate him a post-June 1 cut and save $12.5 million but have him count $4 million against the 2019 cap. At the end of last season Bryant said he would not accept a pay cut.
Just as the Tony Romo question hung over the Cowboys last offseason, the Bryant question hangs over this one.
There was no way Romo was returning to the Cowboys in 2017. He was either going to retire or play somewhere else. The hang up came on the announcement. Originally, he was set to be released in March, but it did not happen until April.
Eventually, Romo joined CBS and became Jim Nantz’s partner while passing up opportunities to continue to play.
The Bryant question is a little more difficult. The Cowboys had Dak Prescott on the roster last offseason. They don’t have a No. 1 receiver ready to replace Bryant, who had 69 catches for 838 yards and six touchdowns.
The last time the Cowboys jettisoned their No. 1 receiver came after the 2008 season when owner and general manager Jerry Jones laid out his plans via a table cloth and Sharpie to Terrell Owens, who caught 69 passes for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Cowboys had Roy Williams ready to assume the top receiver spot. Midway through the 2008 season, the Cowboys gave up first-, third- and sixth-round picks to the Detroit Lions for Williams and a seventh-round pick. The Cowboys also signed Williams to a $45 million contract with $27 million guaranteed.
By the fifth game of the 2009 season, Williams was out as the top receiver after Miles Austin caught 10 passes for a franchise-record 250 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime win against the Kansas City Chiefs. Austin would go on to catch 81 passes for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns and be named to the Pro Bowl. The Cowboys signed him an extension before the 2010 season started.
Just when you think the Cowboys need to have Bryant’s replacement on hand if they choose to part ways, remember the DeMarcus Ware question.
Ware had six sacks in 2013 and missed the first three games of his career that season. At age 31 and having moved to a 4-3 scheme, the Cowboys coaches believed Ware was a descending player. His salary-cap figure had bloated because of a number of restructures over the years.
The Cowboys chose to cut Ware even though they had nobody ready to be a No. 1 pass rusher. They also chose not to keep that year’s leader in sacks, Jason Hatcher, who had 13.
The Cowboys did not make a splashy free-agent pickup. They added Jeremy Mincey, who led the Cowboys in sacks in 2014 with six, the same amount Ware had in his worst season. The Cowboys were willing to turn the need-vs.-best-player-available theory on its axis, knowing they had to have a pass rusher in the draft. They moved up in the second round to take DeMarcus Lawrence to address their biggest need.
The Cowboys can go the same route in this draft at wide receiver if they move forward without Bryant this offseason.
Bryant has had three straight seasons in which he did not produce big numbers. In 2015, injuries and poor quarterback play were the problem. In 2016, he missed three games with a tibial plateau fracture, but his numbers came around in the second half of the season. In 2017, he did not record a 100-yard game for the first time when playing a 16-game season.
“At times this year, Dez did some good things. Other times, it wasn’t good enough,” coach Jason Garrett said. “Dez also is part of our passing game, and we’ve got to improve in those areas. So, again, you pull back and you look at it. He did do some things, made some very significant plays for us at different times to help us win ball games. But again, I don’t think in general the passing game was consistent enough week in and week out to our level.”
To answer the Bryant question, the Cowboys would have to live with the possibility he goes somewhere else and puts up 2014 numbers: 88 catches, 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns.
It’s a risk they were willing to take on Owens and Ware.
Will they take the same risk with Bryant?
NEW YORK GIANTS
Support for troubled CB ELI APPLE from a surprising source. Kevin Patra of NFL.com:
New York Giants safety Landon Collins has quickly come around on teammate Eli Apple since calling the cornerback a “cancer” two weeks ago.
Collins told The New York Post he believes the two young defenders can mend the fence after the 2017 scuttle.
“My relationship can be repaired with him,” Collins said of Apple. “Our relationship can be mended. I don’t know what his mindset is right now. He’s kind of all over the place right now. You can see that with his Twitter rant. We got to have an understanding why he’s playing football, because you got to be playing football to be one of the best players, not to be on the team and blowing your opportunity.”
Collins told The Post he hasn’t spoken to Apple since the sit-down with interim coach Steve Spagnuolo in the final week of the season.
In just the past fortnight, Apple was suspended for the final game of the regular season, had Collins call him a “cancer,” and recently got in a Twitter beef with Giants fans.
Through all the trouble, the Giants have kept open the possibility of Apple returning in 2018. New general manager Dave Gettleman said last week Apple has a “clean slate.” Collins also believes the Giants would be remiss in cutting the former first-round pick.
“I think the organization should keep him,” Collins said. “He’s a first-rounder. He does a good job when his head is on straight on the field. … I want him to be here. I want him to be under my wing, and I can continue pushing him, continuing teaching him how this game is and how this business goes, and help him grow up as much as I can.”
Coach Ron Rivera will be moving ahead in 2018 with a seriously revamped coaching staff. He’s likely to lose his DC and his OC and QB coach have just been fired.
Cam Newton will have a new offensive coordinator next season. USA TODAY:
The Carolina Panthers announced Tuesday that Mike Shula had been fired from his position after his five-year run in the role.
Quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey was also dismissed.
The move comes on the heels of the Panthers’ 31-26 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the wild-card round. Carolina finished the season ranked 19th in total offense.
In five years with Shula as offensive coordinator, the Panthers never finished in the top 10 for total offense, though they did lead the league in scoring during a Super Bowl run in 2015. Carolina also never finished higher than 19th in
Coach Ron Rivera said before the season that he wanted to ease Newton’s burden in the offense, which would include having the quarterback run less often. But Newton’s workload as a rusher increased as the season went on, and he finished as the team’s leading rusher with 754 yards.
The Panthers could also lose defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who is expected to interview for multiple head coaching vacancies.
One would not think it was easy to be the coordinator of an offense quarterbacked by CAM NEWTON for a number of reasons. Bill Voth offers this take on the move at Panthers.com:
For about 10 minutes the day after games, offensive coordinator Mike Shula would meet with fewer than 10 local media members.
The gatherings were so small and so informal, reporters formed a semicircle around Shula while he stood next to the podium head coach Ron Rivera had used earlier for his day-after press conference. The laid-back atmosphere was ideal for Shula, whose answers were usually deliberate and monotoned. He’d never be mistaken for getting too high or too low.
After wins, Shula would quickly deflect questions that implied his offense had everything figured out. After losses, he would search for silver linings. Those shared a common theme.
“We were just a little bit off,” Shula would say before adding, “but we’re close.”
He was almost always right. The offense was often close but just a little bit off. That inconsistency is the biggest reason the Panthers needed to make a change.
Ups and Downs
When he was promoted from quarterbacks coach in 2013, Shula was charged to bring back a power run game that had largely disappeared in two seasons under Rob Chudzinski. To that end, Shula was successful.
Over their past five seasons, the Panthers averaged the league’s fourth-most rushing yards at 128.3 yards per game. That helped Carolina lead the NFL since 2013 in average time of possession at 31:52.
But a good offense isn’t all that great without solid balance, and with Shula in charge and Ken Dorsey as quarterbacks coach, Cam Newton and Co. averaged 229.5 passing yards per game, third-fewest in the league.
Look at the four major offensive statistical categories during Shula’s tenure and you’ll see a clear outlier – the 2015 season when the Panthers led the league in points scored. But 148 of those 500 points – or 30 percent – came off turnovers. This season, by comparison, the Panthers scored 21 percent of their 363 points off turnovers.
Panthers’ Offensive Rankings
Total Yds Points Rushing Yds Passing Yds
2013 26th 18th 11th 29th
2014 16th 19th 7th 19th
2015 11th 1st 2nd 24th
2016 19th 15th 10th t21st
2017 19th 12th 4th 28th
Lacking an Identity
After 2016’s 6-10 finish, Rivera was under internal pressure to make a coordinator change. But staunchly loyal and firmly positive, he believed Shula could navigate personnel tweaks to make the offense thrive like it did in 2015. That evolution never happened as the Panthers struggled to establish an identity this season.
Sometimes the passing game worked. More often than not, it didn’t.
The running game finished inside the top five, but it was again largely dependent on Newton’s legs.
The Panthers would too often follow a dominant drive with quarter long-plus stretches that featured few yards and multiple three-and-outs.
The offense piled up a franchise-record 548 yards against the Dolphins in Week 10. Then they came out of the subsequent bye “just a little bit off” against the Jets and Saints.
To be fair, Shula’s job wasn’t easy.
For the second time in four offseasons, Newton’s summer was interrupted by surgery. That left him with a short recovery window and a sore shoulder that was incapable of threatening defenses vertically until October.
Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen broke his foot in Week 2 and essentially had a lost season.
The passing game needed a trade of No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to become unclogged.
When second-round pick Curtis Samuel was finally healthy and starting to produce, he broke his foot.
Fellow speedster Damiere Byrd was injured twice and played just half the season.
First-round pick Christian McCaffrey was supposed to be Shula’s “shiny new toy.” Instead, the Panthers spent the majority of the season trying to find the rookie’s sweet spot.
It’s too early to predict who Rivera will bring in to replace Shula, but it’s not hard to connect him with colleagues current and former. It’s also unclear what specific changes Rivera will want.
It’s probably safe to assume the Panthers will remain a clock-eating, power-running team, but Rivera does want to see more efficiency and consistency. He also needs someone who can help Newton reach his full potential. After winning the NFL’s MVP award, Carolina’s quarterback has finished the past two seasons with the two worst passer ratings of his seven-year career.
One of Newton’s lowest points this season was in Week 7 when he was sacked five times and threw for just 211 yards in a 17-3 loss to the mediocre Bears. A day later, Shula was asked if he was worried about his job security.
“I have concerns about our offense,” he replied, “and getting points on the board.”
Read all the issues under Lacking An Identity – including Newton’s bum shoulder. Then note 12th in points scored.
The DB wonders if Shula and/or Dorsey could find their way to Nashville where there is a QB with similar talents to Newton and a more conventional personality.
It is interesting to note that Rivera either did not see this coming or was deceptive on Monday.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said he does not anticipate any coaching changes unless someone leaves to take a new job elsewhere, which would seem to indicate Shula will return.
Could Norv Turner be Shula’s replacement? Joseph Person in the Charlotte Observer:
When Panthers coach Ron Rivera woke up around 3 in the morning Tuesday and started jotting down ideas about his offense and coaches he thought could improve it, he could have called the name at the top of his list.
It was only midnight in San Diego, where former Chargers coach Norv Turner lives.
Turner has been out of the NFL since leaving the Vikings near the end of the 2016 season, but he could be jumping back in soon. Turner has emerged as Rivera’s top target for the offensive coordinator post that became vacant when Rivera fired Mike Shula after five seasons Tuesday.
Given Rivera’s hiring history, it’s almost certain he’s going to hire someone he knows well and has worked with before.
Turner, who hired Rivera in San Diego, also happens to be available after stepping down as the Vikings’ offensive coordinator last season. He also has two family members on Rivera’s staff – his brother, Ron, an offensive consultant, and nephew Cameron, the assistant quarterbacks coach.
It could get to be a really big family reunion. Scott Turner, a former Carolina assistant, is expected to return to Charlotte with his dad as the Panthers’ quarterbacks coach. (QB coach Ken Dorsey was also fired Tuesday.)
There are other proven coordinators unemployed with ties to either Rivera or the Panthers, including former Carolina offensive coordinator and Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski and ex-Chargers head coach and Broncos coordinator Mike McCoy.
But the Rivera-Turner pairing just seems to make too much sense.
And if Rivera doesn’t hire him, Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks might. Turner has been mentioned as an offensive coordinator candidate in New York if Wilks gets the Giants’ job.
During a Tuesday news conference, Rivera said he and interim general manager Marty Hurney had discussed “a couple” of candidates – “a few of them, actually.”
When I asked Rivera specifically about Turner and Chudzinski (aka “Chud”), he said the Panthers would stick to the plan.
Rivera didn’t get into details about what that plan might look like, other than to say he thought the offense needed “different perspective” and “different ideas” after those heady days of 2015.
But how much different do the Panthers want to get with Cam Newton, who lacks the kind of precision and accuracy to run the West Coast offense, for instance?
Rivera said he still expects the offense to feature power runs and zone reads, both of which play into Newton’s strength.
As Newton has said repeatedly his running skills set him apart. Also, a healthy rushing attack opens up play-action passes, which Newton has thrived on, particularly with tight end Greg Olsen.
There are a couple potential red flags with Turner. He’s 65 and he left his last job abruptly, although he told Monday Morning Quarterback’s Albert Breer he left because he and coach Mike Zimmer weren’t on the same page as far as the offense’s direction.
That wouldn’t be the case in Carolina, where Rivera has often spoken about his admiration for Turner, who recommended Rivera for the job with the Panthers.
I’d actually be surprised if this doesn’t happen. And soon.
Rivera was interested in hiring Turner in 2013, but Turner went with Chudzinski to Cleveland instead. Rivera ultimately promoted Shula to coordinator.
He survived the goal line pass in the Super Bowl, but he couldn’t survive having a rushing attack where no running back rushed for as much as 250 yards. Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com:
The Seattle Seahawks have parted ways with offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell after seven seasons, sources tell PFT.
Bevell was told of the decision Tuesday night according to a source informed of the decision. The Seahawks missed the playoffs for the first time since Bevell’s first year in Seattle in 2011.
Despite Russell Wilson leading the league in touchdown passes, Seattle’s offense struggled to find consistency all season. Wilson was the team’s leading rusher as Seattle’s structured rushing attack was ineffective for most of the season. The Seahawks ranked 23rd in rushing overall, but 586 of their 1,629 rushing yards came from Wilson. Over 400 of those yards by Wilson came on scrambles.
The Seahawks had some of their most offensively prolific seasons in franchise history under Bevell. They led the league in rushing in 2014 and were in the top five in rushing offense in four of Bevell’s seven seasons in Seattle.
However, the rushing offense fell apart in 2017 and the final play of Super Bowl XLIX cast a large shadow on Bevell as well, despite head coach Pete Carroll saying repeatedly the decision to throw from the 1-yard line was his call.
It will be the first coordinator change of Seattle’s own doing since Jeremy Bates was fired as offensive coordinator after one season with Carroll in 2010. Bevell replaced Bates in the job for the 2011 season. Dan Quinn and Gus Bradley both left their defensive coordinator positions with Seattle to take head coaching jobs with Atlanta and Jacksonville, respectively.
Thoughts from Mike Florio:
For plenty of Seahawks fans, the firing of offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will be viewed as good news. For some Seahawks players, they’ll be wishing it was #fakenews.
Consider last week’s remarks from receiver Doug Baldwin regarding the issues with the offense: “I can’t say it. My job is to protect the team right now, and I’m doing a poor job of that. How can I say this? It’s not playcalling. It’s not playcalling. We go into a game knowing what the defense is going to give us, the situations we’re going to be in. We don’t execute as a team. Offensively, that’s what we’ve seen countless time and time again that we do not execute the way we should. And that’s on us as players. You guys can blame Bev all you want to, but the truth of the matter is, Bev is not the problem. Probably already said too much.”
He said even more during a game late in the 2017 season, when NFL Films caught him saying on the sideline, “I’m team player, I don’t want to be an asshole, but I need the f–king ball!”
So if Bevell isn’t the issue, who was Baldwin talking about? Given Baldwin’s clear frustration with not getting the ball, it’s possible that Baldwin is talking about quarterback Russell Wilson.
There’s a perception that Wilson does too much offensively because he has to. Maybe what Baldwin reluctantly was saying last week is that Wilson does too much because he wants to. Without knowing the plays that were called and the ensuing assignments to the various players, it’s impossible to know whether Wilson is or isn’t going through his progression or whether Wilson is or isn’t bailing on the play that was called and improvising. But it’s possible that Wilson is the one Baldwin is talking about when he talks about players not executing.
Wilson, for whatever reason, has been the target of plenty of resentment within the locker room. The heavy praise heaped on Wilson this year, with the not-so-subtle message that Wilson is doing it all alone, surely hasn’t made things better.
The question now is whether the firing of Bevell will make it worse.
Ultimately, it may hinge on who the next coordinator will be, and whether that person will be viewed as someone who is there to cater to Wilson or to coach him hard.
With Matt Nagy now the coach of the Bears, Eric Bieniemy gets bumped up to OC. Adam Teicher of ESPN.com:
The Kansas City Chiefs promoted from within for their new offensive coordinator. They hired running backs coach Eric Bieniemy to replace Matt Nagy, who was hired Monday as the head coach of the Chicago Bears.
Bieniemy, 48, has been with the Chiefs as their running backs coach since 2013, when Andy Reid arrived as head coach.
“I’ve known Eric a long time, both as a player and a coach,” Reid said. “He’s done a phenomenal job with our running backs and has been involved in every aspect of our offense over the last five years. He’s a great teacher and has earned this opportunity. I know he will do a good job.”
Bieniemy has experience as a coordinator. He served in that role in 2011 and 2012 at the University of Colorado.
Bieniemy played nine seasons as an NFL running back for three teams. His final NFL season in 1999 was with the Philadelphia Eagles, who at the time were coached by Reid.
By the way, Teicher is confident that ALEX SMITH is done as starting QB:
The Kansas City Chiefs will soon be taking a step they haven’t in many years by installing a young player, Patrick Mahomes II, as their new starting quarterback.
That’s enough offensive change for one year. The Chiefs don’t need any more.
So the promotion of running backs coach Eric Bieniemy to offensive coordinator, replacing Matt Nagy, makes sense. Since he’s been with coach Andy Reid the past five seasons and even played for him many years ago with the Philadelphia Eagles, he knows the system inside and out and will make the transition from Nagy about as seamless as it can be.
Bieniemy has been an excellent running backs coach for the Chiefs. The Chiefs have had a back emerge in each of the past three seasons (Charcandrick West, Spencer Ware, Kareem Hunt) to lead the team in rushing. Hunt, a third-round draft pick, led the NFL in rushing this season.
Bieniemy deserves some credit for their development. That doesn’t mean he will be a good coordinator.
But he just might have the right touch for the Kansas City offense at an important time.
It’s official. The Raiders have landed Jon Gruden. Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com:
A six-year dance came to its crescendo and conclusion Tuesday as Jon Gruden was welcomed back for a second stint as Oakland Raiders coach in an elaborate introductory news conference in the team’s performance center.
More than 110 media members were present, as well as 45 to 50 former players, including nine Hall of Famers in Jim Otto, Howie Long, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, Ted Hendricks, Mike Haynes, Dave Casper, Willie Brown and James Lofton. Others on hand included Tom Flores, Jim Plunkett, Cliff Branch, Charles Woodson and Rich Gannon.
Following a video presentation highlighting his first Oakland tenure, Gruden was introduced by owner Mark Davis, who called it the “biggest day of my life,” nearly 20 years after Gruden was hired by the late Al Davis as a 34-year-old unproven coach.
After four seasons, from 1998 to 2001, Gruden was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million.
Davis said he has been dreaming of pairing Gruden with general manager Reggie McKenzie since taking over the franchise in 2011, after his father’s death.
“It was a six-year dance,” Davis said Tuesday. “He never said yes. He never said no. The process, you’d never believe it if I told you.”
Davis said he “got close” four times since 2011 to getting Gruden to return, but each time Gruden chose to stay in ESPN’s Monday Night Football booth.
“I think I was deep down somewhere [wanting to coach again],” Gruden said. “You know, I was at a point in my life where I wanted to be with my family. My sons were at an age where I had a chance to coach in high school, be around them. But this place, this man [Davis] right here, has a lot to do with why I’m here today.
“The timing is right. It really doesn’t have anything to do with the contract. I just want to be a part of the Raiders again. I want to finish my coaching career as an Oakland Raider, and I can’t wait to get started.”
Davis made a side trip to Gruden’s Tampa home during the Raiders’ stay in Sarasota, Florida, in October and said he “got the feeling that this time it was the real deal” that Gruden might return.
“He’s got a database that is beyond comprehension, of just football,” Davis said. “And I used to live with somebody that did the same thing. So I have faith in him.
“I see a lot of my dad in him. The passion for the game.”
The Raiders, under Jack Del Rio at the time, had just lost five of six games.
“At that point in time, I just wanted to know if [Gruden] could help me figure out how to fix this franchise, because I felt that there was a lot of regression, obviously on the offensive side of the ball,” Davis said. “The defense hadn’t started clicking at that point in time. So I just wanted to know if he had some input for me. And that might be the first time I started to get the inkling that, ‘Hey, maybe this time he may be the one to come back and fix it, rather than helping me try to figure it out.’
“He was ready. He was ready to do it. I just want to give him everything he needs to be successful. That’s my only goal.”
Davis said he spoke with Gruden on Christmas Eve in Philadelphia, the night before the Raiders played at the Eagles.
“I felt confident he was all-in,” Davis said of Gruden.
On New Year’s Eve, the Raiders dropped their fourth straight game, at the Los Angeles Chargers, to finish 6-10, and Davis fired Del Rio immediately after the game.
Davis said the pending move to Las Vegas in 2020 had nothing to do with hiring Gruden.
“It was six years ago that I started on this,” Davis said. “At that time, we were trying to get a stadium built in Oakland and I wanted Jon Gruden to run the Raider franchise, with Reggie McKenzie.”
Gruden, reported to have signed a 10-year contract likely worth $100 million, will work with McKenzie, the general manager, on personnel moves.
“It is a team effort,” McKenzie said. “We are a team. It is going to be a Raider decision, bottom line. We are going to work great together.”
Davis said there would be no pressure on Gruden to win immediately, though he has said in the past that he wants to win a Super Bowl before leaving Oakland. The owner said the Raiders have a strong leadership now, while crediting Del Rio for getting the team moving in the right direction.
“I just, in my heart, I feel this is the thing to do,” Gruden said. “This is what I want to do. This is the organization that I want to be a part of, and I am all-in. I only live one time. This is something I feel deeply, strongly about, and I am going to do everything I can to hire a great coaching staff and put the Raiders back on track.”
Gruden said he has hired an offensive coordinator (Greg Olson), a defensive coordinator (Paul Guenther) and a special-teams coordinator (Rich Bisaccia).
“Somebody asked me what was harder, getting the 31 votes to move to Las Vegas or getting Jon Gruden?” Davis said. “And by far, to get Jon Gruden was the toughest.”
In another move, Gruden’s son, Deuce Gruden, is leaving his job with uncle Jay Gruden and the Washington Redskins to join his father in Oakland, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Deuce Gruden has been with the Redskins’ strength and conditioning staff since the 2016 season, serving first as an intern and then as a full-time coach.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
Somehow, DC Gus Bradley was a free agent after one year with the Chargers. Interviewed elsewhere, he opts to stay put with a longer deal. Curtis Crabtree of ProFootballTalk.com:
Despite overtures from other teams, Gus Bradley is headed back to be defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Chargers, according to multiple reports.
Bradley is reportedly set to sign a three-year deal with the Chargers.
Bradley was on just a one-year deal with the Chargers after joining the franchise last offseason upon being fired as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Head coach Anthony Lynn made it clear he wanted to keep Bradley in Los Angeles.
The Chargers finished the season as the league’s third-ranked scoring defense, allowing 17.0 points per game. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars (16.8) and Minnesota Vikings (15.8) allowed fewer points this season.
The Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks had expressed interest in Bradley. However, the Packers are closing in on a deal to hire Mike Pettine as their new defensive coordinator on Tuesday and the Seahawks still have a defensive coordinator in place in Kris Richard. Bradley served as Seattle’s defensive coordinator from 2009-2012 before being hired by Jacksonville.
“Wink” gets the nod from John Harbaugh as the new Ravens coordinator. Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun:
The Ravens won’t be going far to find their next defensive coordinator.
Continuing the organization’s pattern of elevating position coaches into the role, coach John Harbaugh has promoted linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale to fill the defensive coordinator vacancy created with last week’s retirement of Dean Pees.
“’Wink’ has earned the promotion to defensive coordinator,” Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team. “His aggressive mentality will serve to take our defense to new levels. He is obviously respected by players, many of whom have already benefited from his direct coaching at the linebacker position. He knows the ins and outs of what we have been about on defense and has been an important contributor to our success on that side of the ball. This is an exciting day for Wink and his family, and also one for the Ravens.”
The decision comes after Harbaugh had spoken to several high-profile candidates, including former Ravens defensive coordinator and Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano. It was widely believed Pagano, who ran the Ravens defense in 2011, was one of Harbaugh’s top candidates. However, it never was certain Pagano would want to jump immediately back into coaching after he was fired by the Colts last week after his sixth season at the helm.
Martindale, 54, has been on Harbaugh’s staff as a position coach since the team’s Super Bowl-winning season in 2012 and has been instrumental in the development of young linebackers C.J. Mosley, Zachary Orr and Matthew Judon. Orr, who was forced into retirement because of a congenital neck/spine condition and worked with Martindale in coaching the team’s linebackers this past season, said last year that Martindale is one of the best teachers the Ravens have in the organization.
DT MARCELL DAREUS says he’s been saved by the trade to Jacksonville. Nick Shook at NFL.com:
Marcell Dareus’ revenge tale became complete with last weekend’s victory over his former team.
But for the defensive tackle, it’s just the beginning of what he views as the brightest portion of his professional career — and he couldn’t be more grateful.
“This organization has changed my life,” Dareus said of the Jacksonville Jaguars, via the Florida Times-Union. “They’ve done such great things so far, I just don’t want mess anything up. I’m just overjoyed for the opportunity to play.”
Dareus came to Jacksonville via trade for relative peanuts — a sixth-round pick that became a fifth when the Jaguars made the playoffs — in part because he was deemed more of an issue than an asset in Buffalo. He’d caused his fair share of trouble, drawing substance-abuse-related suspensions in 2015 and 2016, and wasn’t giving effort Bills coaches deemed acceptable. At one point, the team made Dareus, a starter, dress for the team’s fourth preseason game (though he didn’t play) because of these issues.
His trade to Jacksonville didn’t come as a surprise, but the resulting effects have been eyebrow-raising. Dareus never lost his ability that earned him a contract worth nearly $100 million in 2015, which became evident when his insertion into Jacksonville’s defense behind fellow interior lineman Malik Jackson only improved the unit. Defensive tackle isn’t a position that shines statistically — Dareus has played on 50 percent of possible defensive snaps, racking up 20 tackles and one sack in nine games (one start) — but his teammates’ opinions carry plenty of cache.
“He fits in very naturally,” defensive end Calais Campbell, also a new arrival in 2017, said of Dareus. “I think what we all have is that we don’t want to let each other down. That’s why I go above and beyond trying to do my job. That’s kind of our biggest motivator. Making sure we take care of our business for the man next to me because I know he’s going to take care of his business for me. That brotherhood and accountability is why we’ve been successful.”
Oddsshark with reasons not to bet on the Titans Saturday despite all those points:
The Titans have not fared well in the divisional round recently though, going 2-7 SU in their previous nine appearances. They are also just 7-20-1 ATS in their last 28 games following a victory and have failed to cover four of five at Foxborough, according to the OddsShark NFL Database.
We can understand how a writer like ESPN.com’s Seth Wickersham could be off a bit on the content of a meeting, particularly if he does not directly talk to an actual participant.
For example, in his recent opus he made some representations about the content of a long meeting about the quarterback situation between Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft that might have been interpretations based on office scuttlebutt. “Bill seemed upset after the meeting, Bob must have told him to trade Garoppolo,” could be an interpretation of an office flunky, perhaps erroneous. But Kraft insists Wickersham’s long meeting never even took place.
Now, Belichick denies another meeting avowed to by Wickersham took place as well. Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
One of the more eye-opening details in ESPN’s recent report about alleged dysfunction within the Patriots was that Bill Belichick and Roger Goodell have a close relationship. Is it really true that the commissioner who busted the Patriots for Spygate and Deflategate has now become buddies with New England’s coach?
Belichick says one detail of the story — that Belichick met last week with the commissioner — is simply false.
“That’s absolutely not true,” he said on WEEI. “The last time I saw the commissioner was before our game against Oakland in Mexico City. He was on the sideline and I saw him before the game and wished each other well. That is the last time I saw him.”
ESPN later amended the story to say that the NFL said Belichick and Goodell met a year ago, not last week. Asked specifically whether the ESPN report that he is “good friends with Goodell” is true, Belichick didn’t come right out and deny it but he indicated that “good friends” is an incorrect characterization of their relationship.
“Well, again, he’s the commissioner,” Belichick said. “Certainly, I am a coach, he’s the commissioner. I think we know what that kind of relationship is, as far as saying hello to him and talking to him, that kind of thing. As far as seeing him last week, I mean, no.”
So as the Patriots deny much of the story, we can add Belichick’s relationship with Goodell to the list of issues that are not, according to New England, as ESPN is making them appear.
This from TOM BRADY from Matt Bonesteel of the Washington Post:
Brady disputed Wickersham’s account during his weekly chat Tuesday on WEEI’s “Kirk & Callahan” show.
“I think that’s just such a poor characterization of anything. In 18 years, I’ve never celebrated when someone has been traded, been cut,” Brady said, per ESPN’s transcription. “I would say that’s disappointing to hear that someone would express that, or a writer would express that, because it’s so far from what my beliefs are about my teammates.
“I think I’m very empathetic toward other people’s experiences. I know those situations aren’t easy. I’ve never been traded or released, but I can imagine how that might feel. I would never, ever feel that way about when Jimmy got traded, when Jacoby [Brissett] got traded. I’ve kept in touch with all those guys. When Matt Cassel was gone. All these guys I’ve worked with, I felt like I had such a great relationship with all the quarterbacks I’ve worked with. I kept in touch with basically everybody. So to characterize that as a certain way is just completely, completely wrong.”
Brady also commented on the “Rashomon”-like existence of NFL players, coaches and journalists.
“Everyone has different truths,” he said. “When you talk about the way I see things, the way you guys see things, the way the writer may see things, the way Coach Belichick may see things, everyone has different truths based on their perspectives. I feel like I go about my business like I have every year, and again, I like to speak for myself, because that’s how — I don’t want to speak on someone else’s behalf or what their experiences are. I try to do the best I can do, like I’ve always done.”
Not to read too much between the lines into the “different truths” comment here, but Brady seems to be admitting here that he and Belichick might not see eye to eye on everything, which is fine. People disagree. But that essentially was the gist of Wickersham’s story, too, and now Brady seems to be lending credence to the idea of disharmony in the Patriots locker room, just seconds after he called Wickersham’s story a “poor characterization.”
THIS AND THAT
SPEND BIG ON FREE AGENTS
Citing the Jaguars, Kevin Clark of The Ringer says that teams that are successful this year spent big on free agents.
he quickest way to win in the NFL is to have a good quarterback—and that’ll always be the case, unless there’s a drastic change made to the rules of the sport. Beyond finding the next Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, the second-best path to success is to spot the next trend and then adjust as quickly as possible. Teams that saw the era of offensive explosion coming due to rule changes won. Teams that drafted über-athletes using analytics win. Teams that noticed the middle of the field was wide open and that running backs could exploit modern defenses in space win. Teams that realized that college schemes could be used freely in the NFL now win, too.
The sport the NFL resembles most is not rugby or anything physical at all; it’s Formula One racing, the brand of car racing most popular outside of the Americas, in which teams like Mercedes and Ferrari dominate. That competition is defined by yearly rule and regulation changes (things as granular as reducing downforce—the downward thrust that gives a car more grip—by 30 percent) and how teams respond to those changes. The best teams throw their manpower at finding loopholes and ways to get an edge within the new sets of rules—and they usually find them within a few weeks of knowing what the changes are. The team with the best adjustment wins, and it usually wins for a few years.
The same is true in the NFL. If you know that the number of defensive pass interference calls and defensive holding calls will rise 129 percent over a seven-year period, as it just did, then it’s probably advisable to build an offense around that. There’s a reason that Bill Belichick—once dubbed a “habitual line-stepper” by a rival—has had so much success in this era: The lines define the sport.
One of the seismic changes to the sport over the past few years has been to the salary cap. In the past six years, the cap has exploded from $120 million to $167 million. In the past four seasons, it rose a minimum of $10 million a year. Meanwhile, after the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, rookie contracts became significantly cheaper, and opened up even more cap space. The competitive balance of the league is changing drastically because of it, and the market for players has become more complicated than ever before.
“It’s the biggest untold story in football,” said former Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns president Joe Banner. “With the excessive amount of available cap space, close to a billion dollars—some teams can’t mentally keep up with that.”
Incredibly, six of the top 10 2017 spenders in free agency, a period formerly reserved for desperate teams to throw money at anyone, made the playoffs: the Patriots, Titans, Rams, Vikings, Panthers, and Jaguars (who spent $20 million more than any other team).
Before the cap rose, the book on NFL free agency was that it was usually a bad idea. Sports Illustrated wrote just three years ago that some big-spending teams had learned that “shelling out cash to players who are nearing their 30s can end up backfiring in spectacular fashion.” That has changed—and quickly. All the room to spend has changed the way teams think about money. Multiple league executives, coaches, and experts told me that it is changing the way teams are built at an unprecedented pace and turned free agency from a last resort into a legitimate team-building strategy, like it has in other sports. Except, unlike the NBA, which had its massive cap spike two years ago to much fanfare, the NFL’s spike has been gradual. That means if you weren’t paying attention, you might not have noticed that the game changed.
“I can distinctly remember the days when it was almost every year, you had to let people go because of money,” Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead said. “Nowadays, I don’t ever remember thinking, ‘Uh-oh, we’re up against the books here.’ Now, it’s more of a strategy. ‘If we keep this guy, what does it keep us from doing?’ It’s not, ‘Hey, we’ve gotta do some things just to get legal.’ I think that’s what has allowed you to make, let’s call it ‘strategic football decisions.’”
One former general manager, who asked not to be named, told me that when he took over his team earlier this decade, he wanted to take a slower approach and build up cap space over time. The problem with the idea was that, unlike in previous eras, eventually everyone had cap space. This is the new reality; it helps explain all the new faces in the playoffs—and some of the old ones, too. The draft still matters, but for the first time, nailing free agency might be as important as acing your first-round pick.
The biggest change to the salary cap was its nearly $50 million rise in five years. The second-biggest change was a clause in the 2011 CBA that allowed teams to roll over unused cap space from year to year. This was to give teams more flexibility, while still ensuring that over a four-year period they’d spend 89 percent of the cap. It, in turn, created teams who were given mountains of cap space and would spend it very quickly. It is probably not a coincidence that the two teams specifically called out by NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith in 2016 for spending far below the minimum threshold—the Raiders and Jaguars—became competitive soon after his comments. The Jaguars carried over $32 million on top of the normal salary cap in 2016. This offseason, the Jaguars signed defensive lineman Calais Campbell and cornerback A.J. Bouye—and matched them with 2016 free-agent defensive lineman Malik Jackson. Each of these players is worth over $15 million against the cap. Then, in October, when the team needed defensive line depth, it simply traded for Pro Bowl tackle Marcell Dareus, who signed a six-year, $96 million deal in Buffalo in 2015.
Despite all of the spending power across the league, superstars are still underpaid, and therefore so is everyone else. So as long as NFL contracts are not pegged to a percentage of the salary cap—something owners are probably not going to ever support—any good player usually becomes a bargain in relation to the cap, no matter how ludicrous the contract seems when it’s signed. According to Banner, stars don’t make as much as they should because when they’re that good, they typically don’t hit the open market and therefore take less to re-sign with their current teams. Then, everyone else is compared with those players and gets accordingly underpaid, too. So, when the Jaguars put together a collection of high-priced stars, they’re still getting great value for their money.
It may sound simplistic, but the cap is rising at such a rate, and the carryover money is so great, that most teams can do anything they want within reason to their roster. “Any team who was bad with their salary cap in the past now has a get-out-of-jail-free card,” said Jason Fitzgerald, who runs Over the Cap, a salary cap website, and has consulted for NFL teams. Teams, Fitzgerald said, can use the excess cap money to easily get rid of mistakes they make in free agency and move on to other plans.
“You go back to the spending sprees in the old CBAs—the Jets were pretty much dead by 2011 and entered a two-year period where they couldn’t do anything,” he said. “Dallas would always have years like that. The teams that spend now, you don’t see that. That’s changed a lot about the sport and the smart teams are being proactive about it.”
This reality is slowly working its way through the league. Recently reassigned Packers general manager Ted Thompson notoriously stayed away from free agency, and something he used to be lauded for became a reason for criticism in recent years as the cap spiked. This week, the team’s new general manager, Brian Gutekunst, made a point to say the team would be active in free agency—and that excited the Packers’ staff.
Even though the rising cap has allowed mismanaged teams countless do-overs, it’s also allowed the rich to get richer. Like the Jaguars adding Dareus, teams can essentially throw any salary onto the pile. It is easier for a great team to just trade for a top player to fill a hole. When the cap was flat, teams were capped out easier.
“Look at the Patriots, adding one of the best deep threats in the league in Brandin Cooks,” said salary cap expert and former agent Joel Corry. “Teams are more likely to trade than ever before—the teams that trade the player can better absorb the signing bonus they’d eat on the cap and the teams that get the player can carry the money on the cap. You’re also getting younger general managers who are more inclined to take risks.” Corry also points to the fact that stars like Sheldon Richardson, who went from the Jets to the Seahawks, can be traded on cut-down day.
Banner said the legacy of the Super Bowl 50–winning Broncos will not be just the great defense. It will be as one of the first teams of the modern era who spent big on outside players—Aqib Talib, Peyton Manning, DeMarcus Ware, and Emmanuel Sanders, among others—and won. The importance of draft picks will never go away—that team would’ve been nowhere without Von Miller—but the influx of cash was just as important. That, Banner said, is the path forward for NFL teams.
In addition to giving top-tier contenders the ability to add a missing piece and encouraging thrifty teams to spend, the rising cap has also made, as Corry said, “complete teardowns much easier.” Fitzgerald said that most teams now can pay so much to players that they can front-load contracts into two-year deals instead of three for the same amount of guaranteed money. That means teams can take more short-term risks, address holes, and have “very little salary cap pain.”
Howie Roseman is a good example, experts say, of a modern general manager: The Eagles are spending to the cap, but they have as complete a roster as there is in the NFL. “He’s one of these guys with a newer mind-set, more freewheeling,” Corry said. Banner points out that Roseman is smart enough to use his cap space to sign his current players to deals that work for both sides—maybe they seem like slight overpays now, but they will be a bargain compared to what would happen if they hit the open market and teams with $100 million to spend got to bid. Banner mentioned Fletcher Cox ($63 million guaranteed), Lane Johnson ($35 million guaranteed), and Zach Ertz ($21 million guaranteed) all as contracts that seem plenty substantial but are really team-friendly when compared to what those players are worth. Then they spend the rest of their cap space on talented outsiders like receiver Alshon Jeffery (who initially signed a one-year, $14 million deal and turned it into an extension worth $52 million). The Eagles are spending a lot, but few can argue with their spending decisions. They’re the NFC’s top seed and would have been the odds-on favorite to make or even win the Super Bowl if not for Carson Wentz’s December injury.
No team epitomizes modern team-building quite like the Jaguars. Bouye and Campbell are Defensive Player of the Year candidates, and along with homegrown talents like cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive lineman Yannick Ngakoue, they are arguably the league’s best defense, ranking second in takeaways, points against, and sacks. How suddenly can things change? In 2016, they were 30th in takeaways, 25th in points against, and tied for 19th in sacks. They are the perfect example of how to make a team work quickly with new pieces. The Jaguars would not be in this position without hitting on draft picks like Ramsey, but they also wouldn’t be here if not for the money they spent, either.
Campbell said that he and Bouye are fast learners and that the coaching staff did a great job of defining the players’ roles early. Campbell often plays what is called a “big end” in the defense, a defensive end on the strong side of the offensive formation. It’s a role he says he’s never played before, but he says he’s comfortable there, as it allows him to use his arms and athleticism to disrupt plays from the edge. The results—14.5 sacks—make the signing an unqualified success; his $30 million guarantee is well worth it.
“Calais is a better athlete than I thought he was,” defensive coordinator Todd Wash said. Wash added that Jackson, a Super Bowl hero for the Broncos who signed for $42 million guaranteed last year, took slightly longer to acclimate to the Jaguars’ system. “He was more of a reader [in Denver], playing square to the line of scrimmage. Here we want him to get off the ball quicker and get some penetration, so it took a little bit more time for him to understand how we wanted him to play.” Jackson has roared through a successful 2017 with eight sacks and four forced fumbles. Wash said that the Jaguars were looking for certain skill sets with their acquisitions, and modern cap space meant they could go out and fill whatever holes they felt they had.
As with any structural change, there are of course unintended consequences, too. Fitzgerald said that because teams can roll over their cap money every year, teams like the 49ers or Browns will wait until they feel they can compete before they spend any substantial money. Before they do, they make for easy victories when they appear on another team’s schedule. The two franchises are now each projected to have well over $100 million in cap space this offseason. You can start the clock on them being competitive at some point. “You can call it hitting on free agents, or you can call it ‘a broken clock is right once a day’ because at some point, they are bound to hit,” Corry said. In the modern NFL, even the Browns have a chance.
The playoffs are off to a bad start in the rating – and some may say it was because they were packed with small market teams from the SEC footprint – Jacksonville, Kansas City, Tennessee, New Orleans. Atlanta isn’t really a small market team.
Despite being big games, the NFL had a terrible weekend when it came to ratings. Numbers have been down all season, and the wild-card games were no exception. Even the Panthers vs. Falcons game, which was one of the best this weekend, suffered. It actually had the biggest decrease year over year. Sports Illustrated put together a breakdown:
Titans-Chiefs (14.7) was down 11 percent versus last year’s Raiders-Texans game.
Falcons-Rams (14.9) was down 10 percent versus last year’s Lions-Seahawks game.
Bills-Jaguars (17.2) was down 10 percent versus last year’s Dolphins-Steelers game.
Panthers-Saints (20.4) was down 21 percent versus last year’s Giants-Packers game.
However, the College Football Playoff championship game – a regional matchup between teams from the SEC did quite well. This from USA TODAY:
Monday night’s national championship game telecast of Alabama’s thrilling 26-23 overtime win against Georgia on ESPN was the second most-watched cable event ever, the network announced on Tuesday afternoon.
An average of 28.4 million people watched the College Football Playoff championship that was decided in overtime, a 13% increase from last year’s similarly close nail-biter that saw Clemson edge Alabama.
Earlier Tuesday, ESPN reported the game scored an overnight rating of 16.7, up 9% from last year’s title game. Only the Oregon-Ohio State CFP championship game in January 2015 had a bigger rating (18.8) and more viewers (33.9 million), which was also on ESPN.
“The record-breaking audiences, over the course of multiple years, clearly reinforce how the College Football Playoff has quickly established itself as an elite event on the sports calendar,” Burke Magnus, ESPN’s executive vice president of programming and scheduling, said in a statement. “Last night’s thrilling finish coupled with ESPN’s innovative MegaCast presentation showcased the incredible strength of college football and the deep connection live sports have with fans.”
We would note that this ballyhooed rating (16.7) was about the average of the mediocre Wild Card matchups.
The Commish is quick to make the point that bad NFL ratings are still (for now) better than anyone else’s Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com:
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell defended the league despite a drop in television ratings by saying that NFL games accounted for 20 of the 30 highest-rated shows in 2017.
“We always want ratings to go up, but we’re 37 of the top 50 shows, which is higher than ever,” Goodell told a small group of reporters shortly before the Jacksonville Jaguars’ home playoff game against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. “We’re likely to be the No. 1 show on Fox — excuse me on all of television, the Fox Sunday afternoon game. Sunday night, prime time is for the seventh year in a row the No. 1 show. Thursday night football is No. 2.
NFL television ratings fell 9.7 percent during the 2017 regular season, according to numbers registered by Nielsen. A typical game was watched by 1.6 million fewer people this season as compared to last season.
“I think dominance of the NFL in television is still very clear.”
According to numbers registered by Nielsen, NFL television ratings fell 9.7 percent during the 2017 regular season. That followed the 2016 season in which ratings fell 8 percent. Per the Nielsen numbers, a typical game was watched by 1.6 million fewer people in 2017 than in 2016.
The Nielsen numbers also show that 20 of the 30 highest-rated shows on television in 2017 were football games. NBC’s Sunday Night Football and ESPN’s Monday Night Football were the most-watched shows every single week in all key male demographics. The NFL and Verizon have partnered to stream in-market and national games. The league also partnered with Amazon to stream 10 Thursday night games this season.
Says Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com:
Goodell is right that the league is dominant on television but how long can that remain the case as ratings keep declining? Eventually, the NFL needs to reverse this trend. This year’s playoffs don’t seem to be the time when that will happen.