A handful of news, notes and rumors less than 18 hours removed from the eight Sunday of the 2018 NFL season.
1. As we mentioned in MMQB this morning, there was no way for the Browns to move forward with their coaching staff as it was constituted—and the move to fire both head coach Hue Jackson and OC Todd Haley was a strike to bring some level of normalcy to the building. Last week it became abundantly clear that the conflict was unfixable. Jackson publicly said that he would be more involved in the offensive meeting rooms, but nothing changed in the days to follow. And the fact that Jackson hadn’t been involved in teaching, building or gameplanning the offense all along—a result of giving Haley the autonomy he was promised—led to the players having credibility issues with the head coach.
I’m told Jackson, for his part, grew frustrated that Haley just seemed to do his own thing. The distrust that grew from this ran so deep that senior offensive assistant Al Saunders (who worked on projects for Haley) was seen in some corners of the building as Jackson’s spy. It’s hard to point fingers in a situation like this, where things get so bad that no one can go forward. But one should be directed at owner Jimmy Haslam, because these personality conflicts have now happened repeatedly (Joe Banner/Mike Lombardi, Ray Farmer/Mike Pettine, Sashi Brown/Jackson) on his watch. Part of hiring, of course, is finding people who can work together, and Haslam has had trouble there.
2. The example everyone is pulling from Hard Knocks is the obvious one—the argument between Jackson and Haley in a coaches’ meeting. But there were other pieces of evidence on how the relationship was set up elsewhere in the show. One was when Corey Coleman went to Jackson to complain about his role as a backup, and Jackson directed him back to Haley. I’m told Jackson, in that case, was trying to make sure players didn’t see him as a lever to get around Haley’s decisions. The intent, I believe, was good there. But the effect, over Jackson’s authority over the offensive players, may not have been.
3. Browns GM John Dorsey said in this afternoon’s press conference that the priority now is creating the right environment for players and coaches, which explains why Gregg Williams was named the interim head coach. Williams is seen as neither a Jackson guy or a Haley guy, and now, it’s most critical that the coach is right for their 23-year-old quarterback. Baker Mayfield wasn’t shy with those around him about his feelings on Jackson, and it’s fair to say he probably wasn’t heartbroken on Monday morning. A key now will be finding the right guy to work with Mayfield, who has a reputation for assessing his coaches, and wanting the “why” to go with the “what” and the “how.”
Bottom line: He’s not automatically on board. Haley’s blunt nature is one reason why he and Mayfield could work together. That should make new OC Freddie Kitchens a good match for him, too—as does Kitchens’s background in Haley’s offense in Dallas and Arizona years ago. And Williams, obviously, is like that as well. Longer term, this whole dynamic is something Cleveland will likely keep in mind in finding its next coach.
4. One name that I mentioned on Twitter, in regards to Cleveland, is Iowa State’s Matt Campbell. Those who run in the scouting circles Dorsey does have the highest respect for him. Does he want to go to the NFL? Can he put together an NFL staff? Those questions would have to be answered. But I think the Northeast Ohio native will get a look from the Browns brass. As should the obvious name—Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley.
5. Speaking of Riley, his never-say-never response to the NFL question on Monday notwithstanding, I’d expect there to be significant interest coming his way in December and January from pro football. I don’t know if he’d go. I do know that he’s become something of a fascination to NFL decision-makers, as we detailed back in June, which makes it natural that phone calls to his camp will be placed by teams looking for new coaches.
6. I’m sure the Bucs would’ve loved to gather more information on Jameis Winston ahead of having to make a decision on his $20.9 million option for 2019. The problem for coach Dirk Koetter and OC Todd Monken: The locker room had all the information it needed. And after Sunday, it was going to be impossible to sell Winston to the players as the team’s best option to win.
7. I know Golden Tate’s name’s been out there, and I understand why—he’s a 30-year-old in a contract year, playing for a first-year coach. But I had one Lions staffer tell me he’d be “shocked” by a Tate trade. The reason? Tate’s tough, hard-nosed style is exactly what coach Matt Patricia is looking for. It could happen, but it’ll have to be worth their while to do it.
8. The Saints defense seems to have turned a corner, holding their last four opponents to 23 or fewer points. And the truth is, there’s a ton of talent there, and has been for a while. The difference of late? The Saints have done a better job stopping the big shot—they’ve allowed the fewest explosive plays in the league since Week 1—and stopping the run. The pass defense still has its leaks, which is why they traded for Eli Apple, but the unit has shown a lot of improvement, just as it did last year in October.
9. The Cowboys’ decision to whack OL coach Paul Alexander wasn’t sudden—it’s been clear for a while there that he wasn’t a great fit for the Dallas personnel, which has clearly missed Frank Pollack. The issue has been that Alexander majors in what the Cowboys have minored in, and minored in what they major in. Alexander’s experience in Cincinnati was coaching a gap scheme with massive linemen. The Cowboys have built their line as an athletic, zone-oriented group. And so the teaching and drill work and play-calling hasn’t been to the unit’s strengths. Of course, losing Travis Frederick and watching Tyron Smith struggle through a transitional stage of his career (having to adjust to a little lost strength and quickness) hasn’t help. But promoting assistant line coach Marc Colombo, who played in Dallas, was around Bill Callahan, and worked for Pollack, should help.
10. Trade names, which we had over the last 24 hours in the Sunday Rundown and MMQB: Packers S Haha Clinton-Dix; Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas and LBs Shane Ray and Brandon Marshall (they’re getting inquiries on CBs Bradley Roby and Chris Harris too); Raiders CB Gareon Conley and S Karl Joseph; Browns QB Tyrod Taylor; and Niners WR Pierre Garcon and S/CB Jimmie Ward.
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