Mailbag: Mike McCarthy's Issues in Dallas; A Look at the Jets' Future

Plus, assessing the Bears' surprising hot start, Cam's future in New England, and more.
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From Justaworkingman (@Justaworkingma4): Do you think Jerry Jones is starting to think he made a mistake in hiring Mike McCarthy?

Working man, I don’t think the Joneses are there yet. Stephen Jones and I spoke last week on the team’s self-inflicted wounds, and he referenced McCarthy in his answer: “Until we eliminate those things, it’s gonna continue to be a battle. I know we will, because we have a great head coach with a lot of skins on the wall in Coach McCarthy. And I know he’s got zero tolerance for it. It’s just a continual challenge we have to execute and be better. Things should only improve as we move forward.”

They sure didn’t improve Monday night, and I know that sort of performance isn’t something Jerry will have much tolerance for. I also believe, given the investment the team made in Andy Dalton, that McCarthy will be assessed on the play of the quarterback, too, past Dak Prescott’s injury. And there’s urgency in Dallas, given the age of the team’s core.

Mike McCarthy's first season with the Cowboys has not gone according to plan.

Add it up, and it’s not hard to imagine the Joneses looking longingly across the field on Monday and at native Texan Kliff Kingsbury, the imagination of his offense, the buy-in of his players and the trajectory of his team—and maybe wondering what might be if they could someday lure another Texan, Lincoln Riley, from Oklahoma. (Remember, the relationship is there. Riley, a few years back, recruited Jerry’s grandson/Stephen’s son.)

Now, I’ll say that the Cowboys have traditionally acted with a lot more restraint than people give them credit for. Jason Garrett and Wade Phillips hung on for a lot longer than a lot of people thought they ought to have. In Jerry’s 32 years as owner, only one coach didn’t make it at least three years, and that one, Chan Gailey in the late ’90s, got two. So having a one-and-done coach would be super out of character for the Joneses.

We’ll see what happens.

From Michael Dunn (@mikeywmFREE): I think the only way the Jets end up with Bieniemy as HC is if they land the #1 overall pick, i.e. Trevor Lawrence. If they don't, who do you think Joe Douglas will look at for their next HC?

Michael, I think it’s way too early to make proclamations about that. We don’t even know for sure which member of the Johnson family will be calling the shots coming out of the 2020 season. So with all due respect to Eric Bieniemy and the rest of the candidates out there, I don’t know how anyone would be able to tell you definitively who would be atop the Jets’ list come January.

Here are a few things we do know …

• The Jets are 0–6, which means this season will end for them on Jan. 3.

• Last year, the Jets rallied from 1–7 to 7–9. But this year, the schedule doesn’t soften like last year’s schedule did in November and December.

• As a result, Adam Gase’s prospects aren’t great. Also, since he did a four-year deal in 2019, the team would only be on the hook for two more years if they fire him.

• Conversely, GM Joe Douglas signed a six-year deal last summer, running through the 2025 draft, which means he’ll likely survive and have a hand in picking the next coach.

Now, the thing with Douglas is that there really isn’t an obvious coach to connect him to. It’s been six years since he was in Baltimore, and his last season there the coordinators were Gary Kubiak and Dean Pees. Douglas also has connections to Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, who made the playoffs three times as Colts head coach, going all the way to the AFC title game in 2014.

Anyway, the lack of an overly logical candidate makes me think Douglas could tap into his college connections. It helps, too, that the Johnsons kicked the tires hard on the idea back in 2019, throwing bouquets in the direction of Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, flirting with Kingsbury, and going all the way to the altar with then-Baylor coach Matt Rhule. I also think, right now, there are attractive names at that level, and Lawrence could be, as you alluded to, a carrot to lure them up to the NFL.

Should the Jets do anything other than draft Trevor Lawrence if they land the No. 1 pick?

From Eric Lancet (@ELancet): Wouldn’t it make sense for the Jets to double down with Darnold and trade the top pick and build around him? Pat Mahomes ain’t winning with that roster.

Eric, I do this every week, so I hope I don’t come off as too aggressive here—I strongly believe whoever gets the first pick in this year’s draft will keep it and draft Lawrence, regardless of whether or not they have a promising young quarterback on the roster. There are two reasons for that. One, Lawrence is a once-in-a-decade prospect. Two, it gives you the chance to restart the QB-on-a-rookie-quarterback clock for your franchise.

As for the Jets in particular, landing Lawrence would mean getting to sidestep what was going to be a complicated long-term decision on Sam Darnold, and getting more draft capital to build around Lawrence (even if that haul wouldn’t be near what they probably could get for the first pick this April). Remember, the Jets already have Seattle’s first- and third-round picks, so this was already going to be a big draft for Douglas.

And yes, it’s amazing we’re already talking about how the Jets would build around Lawrence. But I totally get how all of you who root for them are there now.

From Matt Sedlacek (@matt_seds): How far do you think the Bears can go?

Matt, this is a good question. I love the Bears’ defense, and their ability to pull out wins in tight spots. They may have the NFL’s most physically imposing front, anchored by Khalil Mack, Robert Quinn and Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith’s starting to live up to his enormous potential and a secondary led by Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller has gotten a nice boost from rookie Jaylon Johnson.

They may not be quite what the 2018 defense was, but I think they’re close.

Which brings us to the offense. The line is an issue. Running back depth is paper thin. And Nick Foles has been fine, but he’s not the sort of quarterback who’s going to cover up all the issues the team has. Now, could they get better? Sure. Rookies Cole Kmet (who I think is a real one) and Darnell Mooney should continue to ascend, and that’ll help. GM Ryan Pace could add a piece on the line before the deadline. It’s realistic to expect improvement.

To me, how much improvement they see on the offensive side—and maybe I’m Captain Obvious on this—determines how far they will go, and could be the difference between being a fringe playoff team, and one to be taken seriously in January. Stay tuned.

From Josh (@HepaTaydus): Will there ever be a successful spring football league?

Josh, I think it depends on how you define “success.” If by “success,” you mean a fiscally successful spring football league, then no, I don’t think that's going to happen. Running a full-blown football league is just too costly, and it’s too hard to attract an audience to something it views as less than the best—college football has the best 18-21-year-olds, the NFL has the best of the best and both have audiences passed down through generations.

But if by “success,” you mean a strong league that’s a development engine for the greater NFL machine—bringing along young players, scouts and coaches—then yes, there can absolutely be a successful spring football league. In many ways, that’s what NFL Europe was, and that’s proven out by the amount of NFL Europe alumni you could find on the field, roaming the sidelines and in war rooms for NFL teams.

As I look at it, NFL Europe is proof of just how driven by profit the NFL is. Here they had a league that had developed fans in Germany to the point where Germany had started to churn out players (Bjorn Werner, Sebastian Vollmer, etc.). The league was also doing the same across Europe, to the point where people travel to London for the International Series. And NFL Europe was a huge asset to teams in coach, player and scouting development, and even stood as a decent broadcast product in the spring. Yet, the NFL shuttered it.

And it was shuttered for one reason and one reason only: NFL owners can’t stand the idea of losing money on anything. Which is a shame.

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From Tom in Texas (@ababiloK): Where do you see Cam going at the end of the year? Can the Pats retool around him for a few years or will they need to blow it up?

Tom, I think Cam Newton will be back in New England in 2021, maybe on a deal, maybe on the franchise tag. I just believe he’s the best answer for the team over the next few years and will especially be after getting a full season of institutional knowledge under his belt. That stuff matters everywhere, but even more so in New England, and it’ll be interesting to see what Bill Belichick, Nick Caserio & Co. do with a full offseason to build around him.

Also, my belief was that the Patriots had this earmarked as a year to turn the page financially and with the age of the roster. They’re carrying close to $30 million in dead money. They’re relatively light on young building blocks, which has meant having more 30-somethings around. So my sense is the idea was always to come out of this year with clean financial sheets and an intact kitty of draft picks.

That’s why I think over the next couple weeks it’d be tough for them to go all-in on another weapon for Cam Newton—and deplete the capital they have. Ultimately, if Newton’s sticking around for a few years, there’s a good chance that’ll be what’s best for him, too.

From Houston Football (@Houstonfootbal3): Your thoughts on the next HC for Texans. I am thinking a defense first HC and a competent OC with the shambles the defense is in (Saleh, Eberflus). Also thoughts on GM?

Houston Football, I don’t see the need to focus on a head coach having background on one side of the ball or the other here. Right now, my feeling is the Texans first need to find a GM with a strong plan on how to build around Deshaun Watson, and then let that GM have a hand in picking the next head coach—with alignment at a premium.

Along those lines, I’d look to organizations that have created great situations for their young quarterbacks. Kansas City would be one, and their director of football operations, Mike Borgonzi, is the next in the pipeline there to hit the GM level. Baltimore would be another, and their director of player personnel, Joe Hortiz, would be someone there worth taking a look at. And Buffalo would be a third, where guys like assistant GM Joe Schoen and director of player personnel Dan Morgan would merit a look.

The upshot with all those guys is that each would bring a list of coaching candidates with him. And again, having seen their young quarterbacks develop, would have strong ideas on what a young quarterback needs.

From TheTexansPodcast (@HoustonFBpodguy): I would love to hear more about what you have heard about Easterby in the Texans organization along with his past. Will he be the only one negotiating potential trades this season?

I could go pretty deep in on Jack Easterby here, but let’s keep it to what he’s been in Houston over the last 21 months—and that’s sort of the keeper of the culture. From the moment he got to town, he was tasked with grading and assessing the health of football ops, from the war room to the coaches’ offices all the way to the locker room. And some of the change in that organization has been a result of it.

One example was senior VP of football administration/cap chief Chris Olsen. My understanding is that as the Laremy Tunsil trade was happening, he pushed hard for the team to insist that the deal be contingent on Tunsil’s camp and the Texans doing a long-term deal. That obviously didn’t happen, and four months later, Olsen was gone.

It’s one example of how Easterby has prioritized getting everyone on the same page, and so now, looking forward to the trade deadline, he’ll have to practice what he preaches. He’ll have to listen to people like director of player personnel Matt Bazirgan (an experienced personnel man who’s connected across the league) in assessing offers for Houston’s players, and also project what might be best for the next GM and coach in 2021.

I said this the other day in the MAQB, too: How active Houston is could telegraph how powerful owner Cal McNair plans to make Easterby.

From Gambling Avengers (@GamblingAvenge1): Could Dan Quinn resurface in Seattle this season to help their historically bad defense?

Gambling, I like the idea of this—I’m just not sure it’s very realistic. Pete Carroll’s pretty attuned to the makeup and chemistry of his staff, and I think it’d be sort of risky to interject someone of Quinn’s stature while Ken Norton is working to make things right, especially since Norton’s been working without big-ticket acquisition Jamal Adams the last few weeks. And don’t get me wrong, I think Quinn would help. I just think adding him would have to be handled carefully.

Also, I think Quinn will probably take a few weeks to reset a little bit. Going through something like that five weeks into the season isn’t easy, and my feeling is getting away for a little bit will do him some good. But maybe later in the year, if the Seahawks are still struggling on defense, even with Adams back in the fold, there’d be something to talk about here.

From Not who you think I am (@DonRidenour): Arthur Smith coaching where next year?

Don, I think Arthur Smith will have a shot to be a head coach somewhere in 2021. Doesn’t mean it’ll happen, because a lot of these things come down to timing and fit. But he’s shown so much the last two years—and the Titans liked him enough before then to consider making him OC in 2019, even before Matt LaFleur got the Packers job—that he almost has to be on short lists when we get to January.

Start with his work with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The ex-Dolphin, through 17 games and 15 starts as a Titan, is 12–3 as a starter, and has completed 70.2% of his passes for 4,110 yards, 35 touchdowns, eight picks and a 116.0 passer rating. You can keep going with how he’s gotten the most out of MVP candidate Derrick Henry, and how he’s developed young guys like A.J. Brown and Jonnu Smith. And you get the picture.

All this doesn’t mean he’ll be a great head coach. But it does mean he’ll probably get a shot to be one.

From Kyle Pfeffenberger (@kpfeff432): I've brought it up the last two weeks so why not go 3 for 3!? With the Browns being competitive at 4–2 in spite of their QB, not because of him, what are the chances they sign or trade for a veteran on a rebuilding team, such as Stafford or Ryan, to be their 2021 opening day QB?

I don’t think they'll make a decision on that until after the 2020 season, Kyle. The Browns spent the first overall pick on Baker Mayfield. They owe it to themselves to get the most information they possibly can on him, and I expect them to do that—which means playing him the rest of the year. And I think Kevin Stefanski, Alex Van Pelt and Bill Callahan are going to give Mayfield a pretty good shot at showing what he’s got, in the environment they’ve created for him and around him.

Remember, everything changes once we get to January. At that point, Cleveland will have to make a decision on Mayfield’s fifth-year option, and Mayfield will be eligible for a long-term deal for the first time. Which makes the next 10 games pretty important for everyone involved.