Officially, there are six head coach openings and two general manager vacancies. But the NFL’s “Black Monday” affected 14 clubs directly, and several more organizations will be affected once the dominoes start to fall.
Let’s look at some of the developments, with an eye on how they can affect the Patriots:
■ Josh McDaniels interviewed with three teams on Thursday and Friday, and none of them seems like a slam dunk. All three teams have a GM, so McDaniels would have to be comfortable working with someone new.
With the Colts job, the big question mark is Andrew Luck’s shoulder injury and whether he can regain his arm strength. With the Giants job, McDaniels would either be forced to take on a declining Eli Manning next season, or be the one who has to get rid of a franchise player (and McDaniels certainly has some scars for how he got rid of Jay Cutler and other players from his time in Denver). With the Bears, McDaniels would have to be enamored with Mitchell Trubisky, and would have to ignore three decades’ worth of failure by Bears quarterbacks.
So it wouldn’t be surprising if McDaniels didn’t take any of those offers. People around the league are waiting to see if the Titans job comes open, and that could be attractive to McDaniels given his relationship with GM Jon Robinson. Still, a league source close to McDaniels predicted that he will take a job this time, and agreed with me that the Colts job is the best fit, especially if Luck’s shoulder is OK, and especially since McDaniels already knows and likes the backup there in Jacoby Brissett.
■ The Lions have yet to win a playoff game or maximize the potential of Matthew Stafford, so why is Matt Patricia getting linked to the Detroit job and not McDaniels? The Lions finished seventh in scoring this season and like the direction the offense is heading in under Jim Bob Cooter, who has been working with Stafford since 2014 and just finished his second full season as offensive coordinator.
Fixing a defense that was 21st in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed is the Lions’ top priority. Considering Patricia’s longstanding relationship with GM Bob Quinn, a reunion in Detroit makes a lot of sense. Quinn, named GM before the 2016 season, likely wanted to fire former coach Jim Caldwell after last season, but couldn’t do so after the Lions made the playoffs.
■ The Texans won’t start interviewing GM candidates until this week, and Nick Caserio doesn’t have anything lined up yet, but a league source close to Caserio said he expects Caserio to leave the Patriots, and the Texans offer an intriguing opportunity. Caserio already has a good relationship with coach Bill O’Brien, who won the internal power struggle with former GM Rick Smith. And the Texans have a solid foundation with Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins, J.J. Watt, and Jadeveon Clowney. Brian Gaine, currently an executive with the Bills who previously was the Texans’ assistant GM, is another name to watch.
In replacing Ted Thompson, the Packers have three quality in-house GM candidates in Eliot Wolf, Russ Ball, and Brian Gutekunst, and it would be surprising if they didn’t pick one of the three (Seattle GM John Schneider, a former longtime Packer scout and a current shareholder, is a wild card).
■ Speaking of the Packers, Aaron Rodgers’s broken collarbone had disastrous consequences beyond missing the playoffs. Coach Mike McCarthy kept his job (somehow), but everyone else got axed — offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett, quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt, and defensive coordinator Dom Capers — and Thompson was reassigned. If Rodgers had stayed healthy and the Packers made the playoffs, everyone still probably has a job.
■ It was interesting to see some of the Patriots’ rivals stand pat. The Broncos decided not to fire coach Vance Joseph after a disastrous first season, but he is clearly on thin ice, and needs to find an answer at quarterback. The Broncos are giving adviser Gary Kubiak more input into free agency and building the offense, and the Broncos hired Mike Sullivan to be quarterbacks coach. The Broncos say they aren’t interested in pursuing Manning this offseason, but Sullivan was Manning’s offensive coordinator the last three seasons.
And the Ravens eschewed major changes despite missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, a surprising drought for one of the NFL’s premier teams. John Harbaugh opted to bring back offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, but elevated Greg Roman to assistant head coach. With defensive coordinator Dean Pees retiring, the Ravens are looking to bring back old friend Chuck Pagano, who coached on the defense from 2008-11.
The Ravens’ issues the last several years have been on the personnel side, as they are short on impact players from the last four drafts.
“We want to get playmakers. That’s something that we need,” Harbaugh said last week.
■ The Raiders needed a big-name hire as they prepare to sell tickets in Las Vegas, and they also need to show their new fans that they’re going to have some stability. Hence, a 10-year, $100 million contract for Jon Gruden, who went 38-26 in four seasons as Raiders coach from 1998-2001 and was looking to get back into coaching after growing weary of his “Monday Night Football” role. Gruden’s hiring will become official early this week. The devil of this contract is in the details — How much is guaranteed? Is there a buyout or offset provision? — but this is certainly an eye-opening contract.
Offenses took step back in 2017
The numbers were way down in 2017. The NFL should be worried.
No, we’re not talking about TV ratings. This time, it’s the production of offenses and quarterbacks that should concern the owners.
Scoring was significantly down for the regular season. This from a league that has long believed that more points lead to more excitement, which leads to higher TV ratings. The rule changes over the last decade-plus have all favored offense, yet the offenses took a significant step backward this season.
The Rams led the NFL in scoring at 29.9 points per game (478 total). It was the first time since 2014 that no team scored at least 500 points, and first time since 2008 that no team averaged at least 30 points.
The scoring average this season was 21.7 points. That’s 1.1 lower than last year’s average, nearly 2 points lower than the 2013 high mark of 23.4, and the lowest average since the 2009 season.
|Season||Pts||Avg Tm Pts/G||TD||Avg Tm TD/Season||Avg Tm TD/G|
If that doesn’t sound like much, consider this — there were 541 fewer points scored this season, or the equivalent of 77 touchdowns. In fact, the 1,225 touchdowns scored were 81 fewer than last year, 113 fewer than were scored in 2013, and the fewest touchdowns scored since the 2006 season.
And finally, the league-wide passer rating of 85.1 was significantly lower than the 87.6, 88.4, and 87.1 posted the last three seasons.
NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said Friday, “I don’t think there’s a significant concern” on the lack of scoring and highlighted the fact that eight new teams have made the playoffs this season.
PATH OF KHAN
Jaguars owner made right calls
We were quite critical all offseason of the Jaguars’ decision to hire Tom Coughlin to oversee GM Dave Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone, so it’s only fair to praise the Jaguars for how well it all played out this season.
The Rams’ turnaround in LA has mostly overshadowed the one in Jacksonville, but the Jaguars are an equally impressive story, finishing 10-6 to improve by seven wins over last year and earning a home playoff game against Buffalo on Sunday.
Blake Bortles had a big comeback year (21 touchdowns, only 13 interceptions), the free agent pickups mostly thrived, and Coughlin did an admirable job of providing structure to the organization without stepping on toes.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan told the Associated Press last week that he had concerns about the structure — “the norm is these things don’t work,” he said — and credited Coughlin for making it work.
“I think it turned out better than probably, certainly, I thought it would,” Khan said. “And really the credit is to [Coughlin]. I can tell you he never asked for the 53-man roster. It was my idea, ‘Tom, that means nothing changed. It’s maybe not good for Dave’s ego, but there has to be somebody in charge, and it needs to be you.’ ”
Khan also made clear that the Jaguars intend to stick with Bortles past this season. The Jaguars triggered Bortles’s fifth-year option, which will pay him $19.053 million next season, up from $3.2 million this year. The contract is guaranteed for injury only now, and becomes fully guaranteed in March.
“Maybe we’re not the biggest idiot on the football block,” Khan said. “When his option was picked up, it was like, ‘What are these guys smoking?’ You’ve got to stay the course, but yet you have to have the agility and the flexibility. You have to have both. He’s from the area, he’s a nice guy, he’s talented, he’s stayed healthy. He’s not a china doll. We are invested. We want him to be successful.”
Draft will feature a good QB class
The first round of the NFL Draft should offer great theater this spring. There are several intriguing quarterback prospects — Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen, and Baker Mayfield headline the class — and a bunch of teams clustered at the top of the draft fighting over them.
The Browns control the draft, holding the Nos. 1 and 4 picks thanks to their 0-16 season and the trade with the Texans last year involving Deshaun Watson. After skipping out on Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Watson over the last two years, it is an absolute guarantee that the Browns will take a quarterback with one of those two picks. (As an aside, our pick for this QB class is Wyoming’s Allen. Not that we’ve studied a bunch of tape, but he’s big, athletic, has a strong arm, is tough, and played several years of college ball — everything you want in a quarterback).
The next several picks should be a free-for-all. The Jets, holding the No. 6 selection, might have to swing a big trade in order to land their quarterback. Usually the sixth pick is prime position to draft a QB, but two needy teams besides the Browns sit ahead of them — the Giants at No. 2 and the Broncos at No. 5.
The Colts are sitting pretty with the No. 3 pick, making them an even more attractive landing spot for Josh McDaniels. Since they already have their quarterback — assuming Andrew Luck is OK and they don’t need to draft another one — the Colts can expect to receive a bevy of trade offers for No. 3 and could come away with a nice haul.
The Bills won a playoff spot over the Ravens thanks to the seldom-used fourth tiebreaker, strength of victory. The Bills’ strength of victory was .396 and the Ravens’ was .299, and while we can’t crunch the numbers, it sure does seem like the Ravens were kept out of the playoffs because they had two wins over the 0-16 Browns. Call it Cleveland’s revenge.
Sean McVay, who turns 32 on Jan. 24, became the youngest playoff head coach in NFL history. The previous youngest was John Madden, who was 33 when he led the Raiders to the playoffs in the 1969-70 season . . . Good news for the Rams, who led the league in scoring: Three of the past four scoring champs reached the Super Bowl (Atlanta, Carolina, Denver). Bad news: all three lost . . . Six teams qualify for HBO’s “Hard Knocks” next summer — the 49ers, Broncos, Browns, Chargers, Ravens, and Redskins — should no team volunteer. Selfishly, we really want to see the 49ers and get an up-close look at Jimmy Garoppolo and how he handles himself as the franchise quarterback. But GM John Lynch is already on record saying he doesn’t want to do “Hard Knocks,” and he might have an out. Chargers GM Tom Telesco said last week that his team is receptive to doing the show, noting that there are “benefits beyond football.” Namely, the Chargers need to build some buzz and sell tickets . . . Some noteworthy records were set this season. Tom Brady became the most prolific 40-year-old passer, setting records for most yards (4,577) and touchdowns (32). The Saints’ Alvin Kamara (1,554 yards) and Mark Ingram (1,540) became the first teammates to each record 1,500 yards of offense in the same season. And the Jaguars and Eagles both went worst-to-first, marking the 14th time in 15 seasons an NFL team has accomplished the feat . . . Of all the revelations in ESPN The Magazine’s piece on the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady-Robert Kraft relationship, the most interesting was that “Kraft has confessed to people in the building that trading Garoppolo might have been a mistake.” If true, that’s quite an admission from one of Brady’s most loyal supporters. It’s also correct. Finding the next Garoppolo will not be easy. Also, if it’s true that the Patriots offered Garoppolo a contract worth $17 million per year, it’s hard to view that as a real offer. Garoppolo knew he was going to make at least $45 million over two years as a free agent, plus he would get a starting job out of it . . . Kraft was approached by TMZ in California on Thursday night and was asked about Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry trying to buy the Panthers. “He should do it with P. Diddy,” Kraft quipped.
Quotes of the Week
“He got into a really deep discussion about personal growth this year. Faced a lot of tough challenges. He learned a lot.”
— CBS announcer Jim Nantz last Sunday during the Patriots-Jets broadcast, on his conversation with Brady in a production meeting before the game. That quote caught my attention in light of the ESPN The Magazine report detailing discord between Belichick, Kraft, and Brady.
“Could you imagine the hottest ticket in football is right here, selling for five, six times face value? Could you believe that happening in freaking Jacksonville?”
— Shad Khan, who is quickly becoming our favorite NFL owner.