A quick spin through some of the coaching and front office news, rumors and reports...
• 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.
• 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.
• Norv Turner and the Panthers. The surprising firing of offensive coordinator Mike Shula on Tuesday likely paves the way for Turner, who has coached with eight NFL teams and will be in Charlotte today, to take the reins of the offense. The Panthers were the NFL’s 19th-rated offense in 2017. Cam Newton never got a consistent run going all season, and for whatever reason the addition of Christian McCaffrey was good but never turned explosive. Turner’s son Scott could come as quarterback coach to replace the fired Ken Dorsey. This is not change for change’s sake. Coach Ron Rivera coached with Turner in San Diego and I’ve heard he’s missed him.
• Brian Gutekunst emerges.Hired by Ron Wolf as a scout two decades ago in Green Bay, Gutekunst made the rounds Tuesday as the Packers’ new general manager and espoused his team-building philosophy, which you can hear on my podcast. (Hint: He loves free agency more than Ted Thompson did.) Gutekunst was a bit of an upset pick over another incumbent, Russ Ball. He told me he’s going to use Green Bay as an advantage in player-recruitment. (“You want to work somewhere football really matters, whether it’s Tuscaloosa or Green Bay, and players want to play here.”) I asked him, with Aaron Rodgers 34 and coming off another injury if he’d be inclined to begin searching for Rodgers’ heir. “This is a Ron Wolf thing—you always keep an eye out for quarterbacks,” Gutekunst said. “But we’re really fortunate to have Aaron leading this team, and we expect him to do it for a long time. It’s not like we’re looking to replace him—at all.”
• Some wild stuff in Oakland. Contrast the Chicago and Oakland coach-hire news conferences, and guess which team is the one moving to Vegas in two years. The Jon Gruden event in Oakland was WWE-esque. “To have him here is the biggest day of my life,” owner Mark Davis said. It showed, with the alums back in force and the introductory video making Gruden seem like the all-time NFL prodigal son. My favorite quotes from Gruden:
On his 10-year, $100-million contract: “I don’t really know the terms.”
On his expectations for Derek Carr—and this is a good thing, because a quarterback with Carr’s potential needs to coached hard: “I think with [offensive coordinator] Greg Olson and the system we are going to put in place is going to demand a lot from him and I think that is what is going to unlock the greatness in him but very, very excited to have him as our quarterback.”
On the unfinished business part of this, keeping in mind that his last game coaching the Raiders was 16 years ago, in the snow in Foxboro, in the infamous Tuck Rule game: “For my career to end on that night in New England, it still ticks me off. I feel a lot of responsibility to get the Raiders going again.”
Now for your email...
I AM A GOAT, AND A BIG ONE
You have as good a Rolodex of sources as anyone covering the NFL right now. You're good at your job. You have a dream team of NFL reporters/writers working on MMQB. Yet all you offered on the Patriots story were:
• A re-telling of what had been well-reported
• An angry reaction from Kraft (redundant since the team already denied the story)
• Some educated, I suppose, guesses about the future in N.E.
Any reader of MMQB could have written that. Yes, this was the first weekend of the playoffs but what is going on with the Patriots BEGS for someone busting their tail to advance the story. You're the Goat of the Week.
I may be. I do think there’s an expectation that when someone covers the league as long as I have (34 seasons) and have some good contacts, that when a story of this magnitude happens, I should be able to tell some parts of the story that would advance it and would break news … more than the Kraft news, which was the biggest news of Saturday, and which I had. I understand the expectation, and I understand that you believe I should have known more. Now I’ll explain why, in my opinion, other than the Kraft bombast, there hasn’t been any other major news broken by anyone in our business on this story, and on the previously reported story on the situation by the Boston Globe, since Friday--not by Adam Schefter, Chris Mortensen, Jay Glazer, Ian Rapoport, Jason LaCanfora, Mike Reiss, Albert Breer, Greg Bedard, or the host of other NFL information people on TV or the web or newspapers.
Seth Wickersham has been working on this story for two months. The Patriots are, easily, the most buttoned-up organization in the NFL. When a story like this one comes out, imagine how much tighter and restrictive the atmosphere is inside the Patriots, particularly as (I’m sure) the principals tried to figure out who was leaking. You may think I could just call X number of people and find out what’s real and what isn’t, and that I should have dropped everything to find out anything I could. I won’t say what I tried to do when this story came out, but I do think all of us in the business made some attempts to find out more than Wickersham had, or to confirm what he had. Without saying any more about what I tried to do, I would say that the truth, on all stories, is that I try to calculate (knowing the people involved) whether spending X number of hours or days on contacting everyone I know who might know something is worth it. I have to make decisions like that all the time. In instances when the circle on a story is very tight, it often doesn’t matter how many calls you make, and that isn’t to say you shouldn’t make the calls and try.
All of this probably won’t make you think any differently than you do know, but that’s my attempt to explain to you why there hasn’t been more out there since the Wickersham story.
WHY KANSAS CITY LOST
I’m disappointed that you didn’t mention the three key reasons KC lost that game—the quick whistle on the Marcus Mariota sack-fumble, the loss of Travis Kelce and Andy Reid’s continual inability to make-in game adjustment. In a game decided by 1 point, it’s hard to make an argument that the terrible handling of the sack fumble didn’t ultimately decide that game. It gave the Titans three points and, as importantly, took possession away from a Chiefs team that was hot offensively and would probably have scored even more points, arguably putting the game out of reach. The difference offensively between the KC team with and without Kelce could have precluded the Tennessee comeback keeping them on the field longer by converting more third downs. While you touched on the over reliance on the passing game, the fact that the KC offense had 158 yards on the first 15 scripted plays and 175 yards the rest of the game and how it reflects on Reid’s inability to adjust in game was totally ignored.
I don’t often micro-analyze the four games just played, but you make good points, particularly not mentioning the Mariota play that should have been a fumble.
THANKS FOR LEN DAWSON TRIBUTE
Thanks for the salute to Len Dawson. A great quarterback, a fine broadcaster and a fine man. He grew up in Ohio and Woody Hayes wanted him to run the split T at Ohio State. Lenny also visited Purdue and met Hank Stram, whom he developed a chemistry and a friendship that would last for more than a half century. While at Purdue, his nickname was the Golden Boy and the Purdue Band decided to feature their top twirler as the Golden Girl in 1954. Purdue still has a Golden Girl to this day.
—Steve E., Royal Oak, Mich.
Thanks, Steve. I have tremendous respect for Dawson. He’s a class person who treated everyone he came in contact with in that same class manner. May we all age as gracefully.
Interesting thoughts on the great owner-coach-quarterback triumvirates, and ranking DeBartolo-Walsh-Montana as the best. However, and I'm surprised you didn't mention this, it was all before the salary cap and ('proper') free agency made retaining a core group of great players around a Hall of Fame-bound quarterback nigh on impossible. This, along with the extraordinarily longevity and the way the Patriots are still redefining success in the NFL (consecutive seasons with 12-plus wins, for example), makes the Kraft-Belichick-Brady triumvirate even more impressive than the brilliant run in San Francisco during the 1980s. It’s likely to never be seen again. As for the Garoppolo trade, the return wasn't ideal, but the idea of carrying Brady and a franchise-tagged Garoppolo on the roster for the 2018 season was a nonstarter and a second-round pick is better than a third-round compensatory one.
—David B., U.K.
Good points … I still think there’s much to learn about the Garoppolo trade. It’s still very strange to me. I’d become convinced Belichick was not trading him. Period. I still don’t think I know the full story.
THIS SEASON’S IDENTITY
This season’s identity is the return to relevance of the running game. So much has been made about the NFL becoming a passing league (I don’t disagree), but think of the teams with spikes in their success over previous seasons or those with sustained success. Most have an imposing force at running back. Leonard Fournette, Todd Gurley, Alvin Kamara, Mark Ingram, and Kareem Hunt are all players that came bursting on the scene, while players like Le’Veon Bell, Dion Lewis, LeSean McCoy, Devonta Freeman continue to play a critical role in their team’s ongoing success. The loss to injury of David Johnson and Ty Montgomery and the impact it had on their teams’ lack of success cannot be discounted either.
—Josh W., Arizona
Interesting theory, Josh. But I would say this: The NFL rushing leader, Kareem Hunt, had 1,327 yards on the ground. That’s the lowest total for a rushing champion this century. I agree there are some significant new rushers and the teams that run usually win. But I’m not sure it’s become this over-arching trend. One player in the NFL had more than 290 rushes this year--which means one running back (Le’Veon Bell) averaged more than 18 carries per games. We’ll see going forward, but that’s not a trend I noticed in 2017.
WHAT DOES GRUDEN NEED TO DO TO BE WORTH IT?
Peter, your comments about the Gruden deal are similar to the other reporters where they highlight the risk in the money and length. To flip the perspective, what do you consider a success for that investment? If Gruden brought one Super Bowl title to the Raiders in 10 years, would the 100 million deal be worth it?
MATT NAGY HIRE
For the McCaskeys to hire Matt Nagy, he must have had the lowest price tag of everyone and must be the worst option. The Bears will continue to be an embarrassment until we get new ownership. Least number of winning seasons than any NFL team during my lifetime. (FYI born in 1959.) These owners don’t give a darn about the stupid fans paying ridiculous prices for tickets, parking and concessions. We need a change to owners who care about the product they put on the field and the hard-working fans who have to suffer through watching this minor league organization.
I disagree. GM Ryan Pace is the kind of guy who’s not picking a guy because he either has a low price tag or the owners told him what to do. I don’t buy it. I buy that Pace thinks Nagy was the best candidate for the job, and not just the best candidate because he can coach the quarterback well either.
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