Even though the NFL regular season ended four weeks ago, the football calendar has been plenty busy, between playoff games, the Pro Bowl, the college all-star games, and the coach and general manager hiring cycle.
The coaching Ferris wheel isn’t spinning as quickly this year, with two head coaching vacancies still available, along with nine offensive coordinator and five defensive coordinator spots, as of Friday. But several seats got filled this past week as teams move ahead for the 2023 season. Let’s take a look at the latest with the coaching market:
▪ Broncos: After a drawn-out process, in which the new owners (also owners of WalMart) made several overtures to multiple candidates, the Broncos probably ended up in the best possible spot by throwing a giant bag of money at Sean Payton, a proven winner who can hopefully fix Russell Wilson and the league’s lowest-scoring offense.
But this job has its challenges. Wilson, who completed just 60.5 percent of his passes this past season, is no Drew Brees when it comes to accuracy, precision, and pocket passing. He will turn 35 next season and there are questions about how much he has left. The Broncos also traded their first-round picks for Payton and Wilson, and they don’t draft this year until Nos. 68 and 69 in the third round.
▪ Panthers: Owner David Tepper went the more economical route by hiring Frank Reich, and this seems like a great fit. Reich got a bad deal in Indianapolis, and with more stability in Charlotte could help the Panthers thrive.
Reich went 40-33-1 with the Colts and made the playoffs twice in five seasons despite constant upheaval at quarterback. He was a successful offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in San Diego and Philadelphia, helping the Eagles win a Super Bowl with their backup. Reich played quarterback in the NFL and can help the Panthers develop their next franchise guy. And he has the right temperament for Charlotte and the Panthers, a city and team similar to Indianapolis and the Colts.
▪ Texans: After making head-scratching hires the last two years in David Culley and Lovie Smith, Nick Caserio finally got it right in hiring DeMeco Ryans as head coach. Ryans is everything the Texans need: He’s young (38), has the credibility of a former player (10-year career with two Pro Bowls), and is a franchise icon for a team that doesn’t have many of them (played six years for the Texans and won Defensive Rookie of the Year).
Most importantly, Ryans is really good. In his two seasons as coordinator, the 49ers’ defense finished third and first in yards allowed and ninth and first in points allowed. With a new quarterback also likely coming with the No. 2 pick, the future is looking brighter in Houston.
▪ Colts: The most thorough process in history continues unabated, with the Colts whittling a list of about 14 head coaching candidates to seven, and now considering a rare third round of interviews. From this vantage point, it seems that owner Jim Irsay created an elaborate process as a shield for ultimately hiring Jeff Saturday, but now is starting to realize (as evidenced by Irsay laughing at a parody aimed directly at him) that he needs to go with a more experienced and credible candidate.
▪ Cardinals: The dysfunction in Arizona the past year, which centered around Kyler Murray’s questionable leadership and massive contract, is undoubtedly making it tough for the Cardinals to find a head coach. They already lost out on Payton, Reich, Ryans, and Dan Quinn (going back to Dallas), leaving seven known candidates.
The Cardinals recently invested time in both Bengals coordinators, Brian Callahan (offense) and Lou Anarumo (defense) but have yet to make a move. It still seems that Brian Flores would be a great fit for the job, given his long-standing relationship from New England with new GM Monti Ossenfort.
▪ Cowboys: Why would they move on from offensive coordinator Kellen Moore after finishing first and fourth in points the past two seasons? The hunch here is that Mike McCarthy, feeling hot under the seat, told owner Jerry Jones that if his job is going to be on the line, he wants control of the offense. When McCarthy arrived in 2020, he inherited Moore, who had played and coached for the Cowboys since 2015. McCarthy will call plays next season.
▪ Chargers: The Cowboys’ loss is the Chargers’ gain. They jumped at the chance to hire a proven offensive coach for Justin Herbert, and Moore jumped at the chance to work with an elite quarterback. The Chargers can spin this that they hired Moore so head coach Brandon Staley can focus solely on defense and game management. But it sure seems that if the Chargers start slowly next season, Moore could replace Staley as the head coach.
▪ Dolphins: Made a terrific hire in veteran coach Vic Fangio, who built stalwart defenses in San Francisco, Chicago, and Denver. Fangio was highly sought-after this hiring cycle, and it says something about the program Mike McDaniel is building that Fangio picked the Dolphins (he was close to going there last year with Payton and Tom Brady). The Dolphins finished 18th in yards allowed and 24th in points allowed this season but could be dangerous if Fangio can turn around the defense.
▪ 49ers: Continue to clean up with extra third-round draft picks thanks to the 2020 addition to the Rooney Rule that rewards teams who lose minority candidates to head coaching and general manager jobs with other teams.
Teams now receive a compensatory third-round pick in two consecutive drafts for developing one diverse candidate into a head coach or GM, and in three consecutive drafts if they develop two candidates in an offseason.
In 2021, the 49ers received three third-round picks (2021-23) for losing coach Robert Saleh and executive Martin Mayhew. In 2022, they got two more third-round picks (2022-23) for losing McDaniel. And now they will receive three more third-round picks (2023-25) for losing Ryans and new Titans GM Ran Carthon.
▪ Rams: Mike LaFleur probably failed upward in landing with the Rams as offensive coordinator after getting fired from the same job with the Jets. LaFleur, the younger brother of Packers coach Matt LaFleur, took the heat for the Jets’ collapse this season, but obviously it was more about the quarterback position than the coaching. Being an offensive coordinator for Sean McVay has been a terrific launching pad for several coaches. The one drawback for LaFleur is that McVay may not be long for the Rams.
Did Brady have more time on clock?
Tom Brady retired this past week as the greatest champion and individual performer the NFL has ever known. He also retired a liar.
It was in September 2014 when Brady said on WEEI, “When I suck, I’ll retire.” Since making those comments, Brady won four Super Bowls, played until he was 45, and he decidedly didn’t suck.
Even the 2022 season, one of the worst of his career, wasn’t all that bad. Brady finished the season third in passing yards (4,694), and first in completions (490) and attempts (733). He was No. 7 in fourth-quarter passer rating (99.6), No. 12 against the blitz (102.5, with no interceptions), and No. 10 among quarterbacks in the all-encompassing Expected Points Added, per Next Gen Stats. Brady finished with a losing record for the first time (8-9), but his five game-winning drives tied a career high, and his four fourth-quarter comebacks were one off his career mark.
That’s what made Brady’s retirement this time so surprising. Even at 45, he still has good football in him. But there’s obviously a lot tugging at him — children, business, and more. It reminded me of something Matt Hasselbeck said in 2017 about being a quarterback over 40.
“You’re a real person, you’re not just a quarterback,” he said. “For me to be the dad that I really wanted to be with an eighth-grader, it was just going to be harder. You get to the point of, I don’t know if I can be the best dad I want to be and the best quarterback I can be.”
Super interesting aspects to game
The Chiefs and Eagles will play the third Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., and the first that won’t feature the Patriots: They lost their 19-0 dream season to the Giants in 2008, and got redemption with a dramatic win over the Seahawks in 2015.
The Globe will have a lot of coverage from Arizona all week, but first let’s take a look at a few nuggets from Super Bowl LVII:
▪ The quarterback matchup of Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts is unique. Super Bowl LVII will be the first to feature two Black quarterbacks, and Hurts has a chance to become the fourth to win a Lombardi Trophy (Doug Williams, Russell Wilson, and Mahomes). Overall, Hurts will be the eighth Black quarterback to start a Super Bowl (with a total of 11 starts).
Chiefs-Eagles will also be the youngest quarterback matchup in Super Bowl history: Mahomes will be 27 years and 148 days, and Hurts will be 24 years and 189 days.
▪ The Chiefs are tough to beat with extra rest. Including playoffs, the Chiefs are 10-1 in their last 11 games following a bye week, with the only loss coming to the Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV. The Chiefs are also tough to put away. They have won a remarkable seven straight games in which they have trailed after three quarters.
▪ One strength-on-strength matchup: Mahomes had a league-high 16 touchdowns down the middle of the field, while the Eagles had the fifth-best pass defense down the middle (7.2 yards per attempt).
▪ Mahomes’s sprained ankle probably won’t be much of a problem, because it wasn’t last Sunday against the Bengals. Though he was sapped of some mobility and playmaking outside of the pocket, Mahomes was still 6 for 6 on passes thrown outside the tackle box, 6 for 6 with throws on the run, and 6 for 6 when holding the ball for more than four seconds. On his final scramble, which helped put the Chiefs in range for the winning field goal, Mahomes reached a top speed of 18.14 miles per hour, his fastest speed on any play this postseason.
▪ Hurts is 16-1 as a starter this season, having missed two games with a shoulder injury. He can join Joe Montana as the only quarterbacks to go 17-1 and win a Super Bowl.
▪ According to Pro Football Focus, Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson hasn’t allowed a sack since Week 11 of 2020, or a quarterback hit since Week 7 of 2021.
▪ The NFC is the home team, with the Eagles picking their green jerseys and the Chiefs in white. The team in white jerseys has won 15 of the last 18 Super Bowls. The Eagles are spending the week at the Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass, where the Patriots stayed in 2015 before their victory over the Seahawks, and will practice at the Cardinals’ facility. The Chiefs are staying at the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Gainey Ranch and will practice at Arizona State.
▪ Players on the winning team will receive $157,000, and the losing team will get $82,000 per person.
Truly a life saver
The world saw heroism in real time last month when the Bills’ and Bengals’ medical teams saved Damar Hamlin’s life after he suffered cardiac arrest on the field. The episode also shined a light on the importance of acting fast, and how few athletic events outside of the professional arena are prepared for such a serious event.
In the immediate wake of the incident, the Saints donated 67 automated external defibrillators to parks and youth programs across New Orleans. Friday, the NFL announced an initiative to promote CPR education in conjunction with the American Red Cross and American Heart Association. The programs include enhanced CPR and emergency preparedness training for coaches and other youth sports volunteers, and the NFL will hold raffles and auctions at next week’s Super Bowl to deliver financial support for the programs.
“Being able to deliver care in emergency situations is not just important at sporting events, but in all walks of life,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. “We embrace our responsibility to ensure that knowledge is in as many hands as possible for the greatest positive impact.”
Rest in peace, Bobby Beathard, the longtime scout and executive who died this past week at 86 from complications from Alzheimer’s. It’s a wonder that it took until 2018 for Beathard to get inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame (he retired in 2000), because he has a unique résumé. He is in the ring of honor for two teams (Commanders and Chargers). He was the Dolphins’ director of player personnel for their 1972 perfect season (and 1973 championship, too). He won three Super Bowls as the general manager in Washington, with a different quarterback each time. Then he built the Chargers’ only Super Bowl team in 1994 as their general manager. Beathard ultimately won 10 division titles, seven conference championships, and four Super Bowls . . . I was as surprised as anyone Thursday night to find how much I enjoyed the new Pro Bowl Games (the little kids loved it even more). The drills were surprisingly entertaining (Who doesn’t want to watch offensive linemen catch punts, or see which football players can hammer the ball on the driving range?). And much of the show was prerecorded and edited, resulting in a slickly produced, upbeat, and enjoyable 90-minute television show. Splitting up the action into two days was also smart — it kept the show to a reasonable length, and gave the NFL two days of programming (Thursday and Sunday). I’m looking forward to the Kicker Tic-Tac-Toe competition Sunday . . . If you want job security, don’t take the job as offensive line coach for the Dolphins. The team fired Matt Applebaum this past week, ensuring they will have a new offensive line coach in 2023 for the ninth straight year. They haven’t had a coach hold that job for consecutive years since John Benton in 2014-15 (Chris Foerster got one season plus a month in 2017 before getting fired) . . . Now that the offseason is here for most players, it’s time for “unexpected surgery season.” Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert had surgery this past week to repair a torn labrum in his left, non-throwing shoulder. Herbert is expected to be ready to participate in offseason workouts this spring . . . It seemed like a lateral move at best for Duce Staley this past week, leaving his job as running backs coach/assistant head coach of the Lions for an unspecified job on the Panthers’ staff. But per the Detroit News, the Lions let Staley, a South Carolina native, out of his contract so he could be closer to his ailing mother.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.