Wrapping up Week 17, and Black Monday in the NFL …
1. The Broncos’ coaching search, for now, is going to streamlined with three candidates in their crosshairs: Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, Patriots linebackers coach/de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores and Steelers offensive line coach/assistant head coach Mike Munchak. How can we be sure those three guys will understand what Denver’s looking for? Each is extraordinary in the role he’s in now and has leadership qualities. A key for each of them, I’m hearing, will be the one-on-one time they spend during the interview process with GM John Elway, who’ll prioritize finding the right relationship this time around.
2. While those three guys are top candidates, the Broncos are open-minded to bringing others in—and I think they’d certainly have interest in Ravens coach John Harbaugh, were he out there on the market. But I don’t think they’ll get involved in any sort of bidding war for him, should Harbaugh decide not to sign an extension in Baltimore. And for now, I’d close the book on any chance Mike Shanahan returns.
3. Here’s my informed opinion on Harbaugh—I believe he really likes the group of guys he’s coaching, and that feeling is mutual. This season, when the team was 4–5 and speculation was swirling about Harbaugh’s future with the team, the coach rallied the team. Linebacker C.J. Mosley told me Sunday night that “the first thing [Harbaugh] said: ‘We’re not going nowhere. We’re not focused on any of that.’ He set the tone for how we were going to look at the second half of the season.”
The flip side of it? That organization is going to be different with GM Ozzie Newsome handing the reins to Eric DeCosta. And certainly, I think Harbaugh will consider all the factors before signing an extension, knowing he’d be in demand if he became available. I can also say this: There are teams closely watching, and considering what might happen if he decides not to sign a new deal.
4. The Raiders were looking for a GM who’d be willing to push back on coach Jon Gruden, even if he didn’t carry the contractual power to muscle past him on big decisions. And I think they accomplished that in bringing in Mike Mayock, a guy I worked with for six years at NFL Network. Based on what I know about Mike, he’ll have strong opinions based on a lot of work, and won’t back down in the face of confrontation. So I actually think he’s found the right place to jump over to the team side here. He and Gruden should be a good fit for one another.
5. Ex-Packers coach Mike McCarthy is operating from a position of strength, and he knows it. I’d expect that he’ll be picky on the particulars of where he lands, because he saw forces outside his control (like changing organizational structure) affect his ability to build a team and win in Green Bay.
6. The Bengals are going to interview offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and special teams coach Darrin Simmons on Tuesday, and ownership’s penchant for the familiar puts both those guys in a pretty good spot. You can get an idea with the other requests they’ve put in—with the Rams for quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor and pass-game coordinator Shane Waldron, and with the Patriots for offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels—which way they’re leaning towards going with their first head-coach hire in 16 years.
7. With Bucs GM Jason Licht telling the press that Jameis Winston will be back next year, there’s a good chance we have the top two picks in the 2015 NFL draft playing out fifth-year options next year. The Bucs and Titans could do short Band-Aid extensions with Winston and Marcus Mariota, but it’d seem the best call for the players might be to just take their $20.9 million for next year and bet they’ll be able to earn their way to a lot more money come early 2020.
8. Speaking of quarterbacks who have earned it, I’m told Panthers rookie QB Kyle Allen yesterday did enough to earn the chance to compete next spring and summer to back up Cam Newton in Charlotte. That might sound crazy because he was an undrafted free agent shuttling on and off the practice squad this year. But this is a former five-star high school recruit loaded with physical ability who hit some circumstantial bumps in college, and may still have the same ceiling everyone figured he did when he was a teenager.
9. Along those lines, former first-round pick Breshad Perriman showed a little something for the Browns against Baltimore, meaning Cleveland will likely take a serious look at bringing him back in 2019.
10. On the draft scene, Duke QB Daniel Jones’s decision to declare for the 2019 NFL draft was big. Among those currently entered in, he’d be the consensus No. 1 quarterback. Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins is the one underclassmen left who’s yet to announce a decision that could leapfrog Jones into the top spot.
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