What coaching changes will teams make for 2019?

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How the coaching carousel looks on the dawn of Black Monday:

Cleveland: It’s a more wide-open field now. With the Browns showing so much promise in a 5-3 second half, this is a far more attractive job than it was two months ago. With the success of Freddie Kitchens as offensive coordinator—Baker Mayfield loves him and responds to him—my sense is the Browns feel they don’t have to get the next great offensive brain to work with Mayfield and develop an offensive identity. They might have that guy now. So that could put a defensive presence like Vic Fangio of Chicago in play, or even a special-teams guru like Dave Toub—well known to GM John Dorsey from their days in Kansas City. Gregg Williams will be interviewed for the gig, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be a serious candidate. I still think McDaniels and Lincoln Riley will be vetted by the Browns too.         

Green Bay: The Pack is rounding up some different suspects. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald is an interesting name; he’s done a lot with less at the strong academic school, which could be appealing to GM Brian Gutekunst because so many marginal players need to play roles for NFL teams to win; roster churn in the NFL is a way of life. I’ll be surprised if the Packers don’t interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who I believe will be interested only in the best jobs on the market because he knows he has a bright future in New England. If I were McDaniels, those jobs this year would be Cleveland and Green Bay.  

Arizona: No Mike McCarthy? Hmmmm. I said last week McCarthy could be interested in Arizona (for football and family reasons); CBS’ Jason LaCanfora said Sunday that McCarthy would not be a candidate there. This is an interesting job—assuming, today, that Steve Wilks is let go after one season—because Cards have had a talent drain and have not had impact drafts the last couple of years. Even though they have the first pick in the draft, GM Steve Keim could be on thin ice with one more bad season. So a head-coach candidate in Arizona could wonder: Who will my boss be in a year?

Denver: Vance Joseph could never stop the bleeding. Broncos had an eight-game losing streak last year, and Joseph vowed to be better at turning around the bad runs. This year, Denver had a four-game losing streak early, and finished the year losing four in a row. You just never got the feeling he could turn it around. That plus game-management issues (such as kicking the field goal, down four with 4:39 left at the Cleveland 6-yard line, and losing by one to the Browns Dec. 15) doomed Joseph, who will leave with an 11-21 record. The Broncos thought briefly of dumping the offensive coaching staff—John Elway wants to emulate some of the more imaginative offensive schemes in football—and pairing Joseph with a bright young offensive coordinator; I’m told Elway would not have brought Gary Kubiak back to run the offense. But Denver is more likely to blow it up today and start a wide search. Elway is most likely to try to find the best available offensive mind and build a staff around him.

New York Jets: Discipline, or a lack of it, killed Todd Bowles. Three straight seasons of 5-11, 5-11 and 4-12 are the obvious reasons Bowles will get fired. But this one play from Sunday’s desultory end of his reign crystallized how Bowles couldn’t get through to some undisciplined guys. Midway through the second quarter, defensive lineman Henry Anderson of the Jets had the harebrained penalty of the day, shoving Tom Brady after he threw the ball away on third down, giving the Patriots, already up 14-3, a fresh set of downs and, as it turned out, an easy third touchdown of the day. “There’s a reason why the Jets are 4-11,” Ian Eagle said on CBS. Yes there is. Bowles has railed against the lack of discipline, and now someone new will see if they can get through to players committing stupid fouls. I’m told it’s likely GM Mike Maccagnan will get one more coach to hire. If I were him, I’d try to convince Mike McCarthy to be interested. Not sure McCarthy would come—he is widely reported to be considering taking 2019 off—but control over the roster and the specter of coaching Sam Darnold should tempt him.

Atlanta: Beware, coordinators. The bloated Falcons coaching staff will likely be overhauled, with head coach Dan Quinn changing lots at the top. Endangered: offensive coordinagtor Steve Sarkisian, defensive coordinator Marquand Manuel and veteran special-teams coordinator Keith Armstrong. Owner Arthur Blank will give GM Thomas Dimitroff and Quinn 2019, and maybe not much longer, to clean up this 7-9 mess.

Baltimore: Strange days in Maryland. As I wrote last week, I’m not sure John Harbaugh will sign an extension; he might, but it’s no sure thing. If he doesn’t sign, and if the Ravens decide not to proceed with a lame-duck head coach, it’ll be interesting to see where Harbaugh would land, because he’d easily be the hottest commodity on the market. First things first, though. The Ravens will be a tough out in the playoffs, and that’s got to be everyone’s first priority now, of course.

Cincinnati: Marvin Lewis out? Does it matter? Jay Glazer had Lewis out on FOX Sunday, and I don’t doubt it. I know Bengals owner Mike Brown, and I know how much he likes regularity, and I also know this would not be a widely sought job. I remember a few years ago discussing the Bengals job with a league executive, who said, “You mean the 33rd franchise?” The Bengals are not progressive, and they are not an attractive franchise, and I can’t imagine a coach who’d have other options wanting to succeed Marvin Lewis.

Tampa Bay: Dirk Koetter couldn’t fix Jameis Winston, and so he’s gone. With GM Jason Licht staying and lording over the coach search, it’s obvious the Bucs are going to give another coach the chance to save Winston’s Tampa career in 2019, year five of Winston’s time with the Bucs. The Buc job is somewhere far south of Green Bay and Cleveland on the coach-desirability meter and north of Cincinnati. It’ll be interesting to see how much interest Licht can drum up among premier candidates.

Jacksonville: Should Doug Marrone be safe? He is, according to owner Shad Khan, despite another afternoon of player misbehavior that has been shockingly consistent for the most disappointing team in the NFL. “Stability should not be confused with satisfaction,” Khan said after the game in a statement confirming coach Doug Marrone, EVP Tom Coughlin and GM Dave Caldwell would return in 2019. Eleven months after the Jaguars blew a 20-10 lead with 10 minutes left in the AFC title game at New England, they finished 2018 as the NFL’s most disappointing team with a woeful 20-3 loss at Houston. I’m a bit surprised, though clearly Khan is doing this only because he knows disruption to the status quo could do more harm than good. But the leadership trio was also forewarned about 2019 thusly by Khan: “I will not overlook how poorly we accounted for ourselves following a 3-1 start. There were far too many long Sundays over the last three quarters of the season, with today’s loss in Houston being the final example, and that cannot repeat itself in 2019. That’s my message to our football people and players.” Right about the time that statement circulated, Coughlin ripped into de-activated backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon for sideline behavior he deemed “disrespectful and selfish.”

Miami: Should Adam Gase be safe? I was surprised, too, to hear the respected Jay Glazer say this about the Miami coach on the FOX pregame show: “If he’s out, he will skyrocket to the top of a lot of lists.” Gase is 23-26 in his three seasons in Miami, with no playoff wins; he was hired to develop Ryan Tannehill into a prime NFL quarterback, and though Tannehill has missed 23 games due to injury during Gase’s tenure, the quarterback play between Tannehill and Jay Cutler has been mediocre at best. In his last 21 starts, Tannehill has not thrown for 300 yards in a game. Not once. The Miami Herald reported that EVP of football operations Mike Tannenbaum is likely to be fired, so that lends credence to Tannenbaum being the sacrificial guy, with Gase and GM Chris Grier staying. But we’ll see. Owner Stephen Ross isn’t happy with consistent irrelevance, so I bet he’ll knock on Jim and John Harbaugh’s doors before Gase can feel secure for 2019.

Carolina: Ron Rivera is safe. Good move, David Tepper.

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Why Texans need to trade for Redskins’ Trent Williams now

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Three Things I Think

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Three quick thoughts:

1. I think my everlasting memory of this trip will be watching J.J. Watt steam in from Aaron Rodgers’ left side on a live pass-rush drill (well, full-speed, but no hitting the quarterback in a camp practice) in the Texans-Packers joint practices. He jousted with left tackle David Bakhtiari, dipped to the outside, got half a step on the left tackle, and sprinted at Rodgers. Watt meant it. As did Rodgers, who sprinted up the right side and evaded Watt. First time Watt ever stepped foot in Wisconsin to play pro football (though a practice), and he got emotional about it, and it meant a lot to him. Two Hall of Fame players going at it on a Monday morning in northeast Wisconsin. Loved it.

2. I think the Texans need to trade for Washington left tackle Trent Williams, who is unhappy in Washington and threatening to not play this year. Houston’s time is now. Watt turns 30 this year. So much of this team is in its prime. They could get three or four more years out of Williams, who turns 31 next Monday, and he’d strengthen the only true weak point of this team.

3. I think I marvel at DeAndre Hopkins and found it compelling to just watch him practice in Green Bay. He even dropped a pass over the middle. Consider that last year he became the first receiver since drop stats were kept—at least 13 years—to catch at least 110 balls without a drop. “Why do you think people don’t really know that?” he asked me after practice, a bit annoyed. I don’t know, but I do know Hopkins is the best wideout in football by almost any measure. “There are games, like against Philly last year, when he gets his jersey ripped off,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “Teams are so physical with him. What makes him special is so many plays are contested. People are draped on him, and he comes down with it.” With wideout injuries last year, Houston saw a weird three-man coverage at times on Hopkins, “cut coverage,” O’Brien called it, with a linebacker undercutting him near the line of scrimmage before he would get out in the open field and face two cover guys. I asked Hopkins how he worked on his hands as a kid. Jerry Rice tossed and caught bricks with his dad, a mason. Hopkins: “This is something I haven’t told many people, because it’s embarrassing,” he said. “We always used to catch flies with our hands. I was the only one who could catch ‘em. One-handed, two-handed. I actually studied flies. I’d watch ‘em. How do you catch flies? They fly up. If I can catch that, I can catch anything.”

Why Antonio Brown is crazy to fight NFL over helmet issue

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Regarding the Mike Silver/Adam Schefter-reported stories Friday about the melodrama surrounding the Oakland receiver—or, I should say, the receiver employed by Oakland who is not currently playing for Oakland—the overriding thought I have is a simple one. The NFL and the NFLPA have teamed up to research helmet safety and helmet technology through exhaustive, independent studies since 2016. All players were told in 2017 they’d have to wear new helmets—league and union-approved—by 2018, with a one-year grandfather period pushing the absolute deadline to don correct helmets to 2019. I did a podcast about the helmet in May, and over the previous seven months talked to 14 players about the helmet issue. Several of the players weren’t crazy about making the change, including 49ers tackle Joe Staley, who’d worn the same model of helmet for 15 years (though it had been updated at least once) and admitted to me he would not have changed unless forced.

“It’s something that needs to be done,” Staley told me last fall, “and I think I’m a perfect case study of why it needs to be done. I wouldn’t have changed my helmet unless they made these rules changes.”

For Brown to be fighting this is just crazy. According to Schefter, Brown had a two-hour grievance hearing Friday with an independent arbitrator, arguing that he should be able to wear a helmet he has been wearing for more than 10 years. (That, in itself, makes the helmet illegal; the NFL mandates that helmets worn for at least 10 years be replaced, regardless of their condition.)

There isn’t much the league and players union agree on without reservation, but the current helmet protocol, the outgrowth of a $60-million investment by NFL owners in 2016 to improve helmet technology and reduce head trauma in players, is one of those things. If Brown wins, he would be the lone player out of 2,016 active and practice-squad players in the NFL this season who would be wearing a helmet—the Schutt Air Advantage, in his case—not approved for use by NFL and NFLPA testers. And this helmet is so old that it’s not even been tested by the league and the union. I’m told unquestionably it would fail any test for helmet safety, as would virtually any helmet not made in the last four or five years.

A few other thoughts on this nutty story:

• Brown has to grow up, or he’s got to get some help. Someone in his life, if anyone has a scintilla of influence over him (and that is in doubt), needs to say to him: The Raiders could void your contract for this behavior, and you’d be out $30.1 million in guaranteed money, and what team would pay you even a fraction of that after? You walked out on the Steelers and then turned into a child on the Raiders and boycotted them too—in the span of nine months!

• The Steelers have to be the happiest team in the league right now. They don’t have a great player, but they do have a sane, undivided training camp.

Jon Gruden has to defend Brown, which he did Saturday night after the Raiders’ preseason win over the Rams. But anyone who knows Gruden knows he’s got to be frustrated over his best offensive weapon being disabled because of the freaky frostbite injury and fuming at Brown being AWOL because the NFL is trying to make football safer for him.

• To be a fly on GM Mike Mayock’s wall. He’s a football purist, and his first season piloting a storied franchise might be sent over a cliff by the weirdest controversy in years that has incredibly little to do with real football.

• Mike Silver’s 20-tweet thread detailing the Brown story Friday was exquisite. Best football thread I’ve seen, full of rich detail and information about the dysfunctional Brown/Raiders/helmet thing. What was great about Silver’s long social screed: It was essentially an 800-word news story, broken in real time on Twitter instead of being broken on NFL.com with a Twitter link to the story. Whatever the reason for doing it that way (NFL.com I’m sure now regrets the loss of traffic on a heavily read story), I found it easy to digest just by scrolling up on my phone. Silver had the helmet stuff solid, and this piece of information that can’t go on in team meetings: “Brown, according to witnesses, typically glances at the screens of several tablets and his smart phone during meetings, distracting himself by engaging in activities which include perusing his bank accounts and ‘liking’ photos on Instagram.” Social media is still the Wild West, but Silver showed you can break news with a story broken into 20 easy bites.

• “Hard Knocks” is either going to show a slice of this Brown story this week, with some real video and team reaction, or it’s Pravda. And I know Ken Rodgers of NFL Films, the curator of this show. He will want to show the real story, very much.

I’ve been around a lot of crazy stories in the NFL in my 35 years covering the league. But the last nine months in the life of Antonio Brown is right up there.


One more thing from Kearse: “The NFL changed the rules to prevent more head injuries and more head contact. But at the end of the day it’s a full-contact sport and guys are kind of making quick decisions, and you want to be able to have a product that’s going to be able to protect you. I think the NFL wants this league to last. They’re going to have to continue to keep digging deeper to improve. It’s an uncontrolled environment where things can happen and for me personally, I want to have the best protecting me out there.”

Someone’s got to get to Brown, and fast.