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Mailbag: Will Jim Harbaugh Be Coaching Trevor Lawrence Next Season?

If the Jets get the No. 1 pick, will they make a splashy hire to go along with their new quarterback? Plus, a team that could surprise opponents in the playoffs, passing out blame for offensive struggles in New England and Philly, and coaches getting second chances in 2021/

Week 14 is here. Let’s get right to your mail …

From Danny (@bettheover85): If Harbaugh can be effective but only for a few years before it gets old, why would any team bother hiring him? ... Odds Trevor pulls an Eli if Jets have 1st pick?

Danny, thanks for the questions—both good ones.

Let’s start with Jim Harbaugh’s future. There are reports out there that Michigan has put a contract proposal in front of him (2021 is the last year of the deal he signed to go back to his alma mater in 2015), and that would put the decision at his feet. I can say with confidence that his options at the NFL level have been explored. That means, one way or the other, the likelihood is he will either renew his vows or go back to the pros, rather than coach in a contract year.

Now, why would he be attractive to NFL teams? To me, that’s obvious—very few coaches have the track record of consistent turnarounds that he does. You can check the scoreboard on it.

• The University of San Diego had three winning seasons in the nine years before Harbaugh’s 2004 arrival. He started 2–4 in ’04. From there, Harbaugh went 27–2 with back-to-back 11–1 seasons.

• Stanford had endured five straight losing seasons and was coming off a 1–11 year when it hired Harbaugh in 2007. That first year, the Cardinal went a respectable 3–6 in Pac-10 play with an upset of second-ranked USC. By Year 3, they were 8–5. In Year 4, they went 12–1 and won the Orange Bowl.

• The Niners didn’t crack .500 from 2003 to 10, with a single 8–8 year as a high-water mark. Harbaugh took them to 13-3 and the NFC title game in his first year, 2011, and to the Super Bowl after the 2012 season. Even when things crumbled in Year 4, his team managed to go 8–8.

• Michigan was coming off one of the darkest (maybe the darkest) seven-year runs in program history, posting three losing records between 2008 and ’14. Harbaugh went 10–3 in each of his first two years, ’15 and ’16, got to 10 wins again in ’18, and only now is staring at the prospect of landing under .500, in Year 6.

So if an NFL team were to land Harbaugh, what would they be signing up for? It’s all right there. He’s Bill Parcells. He’ll come in, shake things up and offer an immediate return on your investment. Yes, maybe four years down the line, he’ll have worn people out and started to eye the door. But there are lots of teams that would sign up for a couple of 11- or 12-win seasons, understanding that things might get awkward down the line.

Bottom line, if you’re a team with a win-now roster looking for a coach, there’s a lot of merit to the idea of pursuing Harbaugh.

As for your second question, Danny, I think it’s close to 100% certain that Trevor Lawrence will enter the NFL draft. My understanding is that a lot of details have been worked out (i.e. he knows which agent, marketing team, etc. he’ll sign with) already, which is common for high-end guys—which means at least you don’t have to worry about him pulling a Peyton Manning on the Jets.

Would he pull an Eli Manning on them? I can’t say for sure. While I don’t know Lawrence personally, I have heard from people who do that forcing a trade wouldn’t really be in his nature. Thing is, I don’t know that it really was in Eli’s nature, either. But it was, in Eli’s mind, an important enough thing to step out of character for in 2004. We’ll see soon enough, if the Jets keep losing, whether Lawrence will see this one that way.

From Bo (@purpskultrooper): Who is a team you can see surprising in the playoffs?

Bo, I think the Colts would be the team with potential to be this year’s version of what the Titans were last year, and mostly because, like Tennessee was, Indy is built to play in January. Indy should get LT Anthony Castonzo back soon (maybe this week), and when he is back, that offensive line will become a major strength, and the defensive line—with DeForest Buckner and Denico Autry as anchors—is right there with it.

Having an ability to play football through the lines travels and translates into cold weather, should the Colts be faced with that. And Philip Rivers, for all the criticism he’s taken, has playoff skins on the wall. Will they win the Super Bowl? No. Could I see them clipping the Steelers in the divisional round? Sure I could.

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And gun to my head, if you give me an NFC team, I’d say Washington or the Giants could take out the top wild card team. There’s a good chance that team will be either Tampa Bay or an NFC West team, and so that team will be going into likely frigid conditions against a tough and resourceful opponent—which is a nice recipe for an upset.

From Craig Ginsberg (@CraigAdamG): More attractive head coach job for next season: Jags or Jets?

Craig, there’s some interesting history I can use to answer your question with. Back in 2013, promising young Falcons director of player personnel Dave Caldwell was being pursued by both those teams and got some advice to take the Jaguars’ job over the Jets’ job because the owner would allow more runway to build the team and be less reactionary to outside force, and the media environment would be easier to manage.

So Caldwell took the Jags’ job.

How did that work out? Well, after Caldwell said no, the Jets hired Seattle exec John Idzik and fired him two years later, tapping Houston college scouting director Mike Maccagnan to replace him. Maccagnan made it four seasons, and not to a fifth—he was fired in May 2019. The Jets then had to break the bank to convince Philly exec Joe Douglas to take the job. Meanwhile, Caldwell was just let go by the Jaguars in the midst of his eighth season at the helm, with one playoff appearance on his ledger.

Given that history, which job would you feel more comfortable taking? Add to that the fact that the Jaguars will likely work to make sure their next coach aligns with the GM, and the massive amount of draft capital (multiple picks in the first, second, fourth, fifth and seventh rounds) Jacksonville has, in addition to a few nice young pieces and a healthy cap situation, and, I think given the choice Caldwell had, you go south on this one.

The Jets’ being in position to take Trevor Lawrence would certainly tip the scales a little (you could bolster your draft haul by dealing Sam Darnold, and I do trust Douglas to draft well). But probably not enough to outweigh everything else.

From Mr. Moseley (@Mr_Moseley): Do you think if NE had better WR then Cam would be having more success as a passer? Basically, is it Cam or NE's lack of playmakers for the lack of passing game?

Mr. Moseley, the answer to your first question is yes, and to the second question is that it’s part of it. The Patriots’ receiver room might be the NFL’s least appealing right now—at least the Jets (Jamison Crowder) and Jags (D.J. Chark) have players you can envision as contributors on any given team—and the tight end room is probably worse than the receiver room. That’s going to affect any quarterback.

And truth be told, it did affect Tom Brady last year. Brady, by the way, at least had Julian Edelman, and experienced tight ends in Matt LaCosse and Benjamin Watson. Newton has neither. That’s been reflected in his numbers, which aren’t all that different than Brady’s were down the stretch and into the playoffs last year. Take a look …

Brady (9, 4–5): 193-for-341 (56.7%), 2,015 yards, 11 TDs, 5 INTs, 78.1 passer rating.

Newton (11 games, 6–5): 190-for-285 (66.7%), 2,053 yards, 5 TDs, 9 INTs, 80.3 passer rating.

Now, I won’t tell you that Newton has played well of late. He absolutely hasn’t, to the point where I’ve come off my take that the Patriots absolutely should sign him up to be their bridge quarterback as they look for a long-term answer. I still think they should consider his being that guy—I also believe having him has forced them to move their scheme closer to where offense has been going in the sport for a long time, which is important—but it wouldn’t be automatic for me anymore.

But to think that New England’s offensive woes all relate back to him? Please. Look at how Brian Hoyer, with a decade of NFL experience and a ton of background in New England’s system, looked running the offense in Kansas City back in October (59.4 QB rating). Hoyer’s no star, but that was a pretty good window into what the Patriots are dealing with right now. It’s a legit mess.

Which is one reason why the Patriots are as reliant as they are on the run game, with Newton’s being a major driver in that area. Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels have done a decent job coaching around the problem. But make no mistake, it’s there, and I’m not talking about the quarterback.

From Wendell Ferreira (@wendellfp): Do you foresee any former NFL HC having a second chance in the next hiring cycle?

Yes. Want a list? I’ll give you a list.

Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen: New Orleans has the NFL’s No. 1 defense for the first time in Sean Payton’s decade and a half in charge, and that’s positioned Allen as an attractive head-coaching option in 2021. Hired in Oakland at 39, Allen’s first go-round was part of a ground-up rebuild that wasn’t conducive for a young, first-time head coach.

Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles: The collapse of the Jets following his 2018 firing should help his cause—he won 10 games his first year there and then helped undertake a massive rebuild that never really took. His Bucs D came together late last year and, though there’ve been bumps this year, ranks seventh in the NFL going into Week 13.

Ex-Colts/Lions coach Jim Caldwell: Another coach whose previous work has taken on a different light with his former team’s struggle after his departure, Caldwell’s name has come up a bunch as I’ve called around. He’s got a 62–50 career record, has taken two franchises to the playoffs and made it to the Super Bowl 11 years ago.

Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier: Frazier made the playoffs in his second year as Vikings coach and was fired after regression in Year 3. He has since helped Sean McDermott completely change the face of the Bills. The issue is, like Caldwell, he’s older (61), and Buffalo’s defense hasn’t quite played to its potential this year.

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels: He’s waited and waited and waited. And I think, now at 45 years old, he’s going to be reasonable about where he takes his shot at being a head coach again. I’ve mentioned a few times that that Chargers make sense.

Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris: Like McDaniels, Morris got his first shot in his early 30s and wasn’t quite ready for it. His name had momentum going into the year. That dissipated during Atlanta’s disastrous start, but his work as Atlanta’s interim coach has again bolstered the idea that he’s a very viable candidate, and maybe for the Falcons.

Ex-Texans coach Bill O’Brien: It might not happen right away—the rubble in Houston has left a mark on everyone who was there over the last year or so. But O’Brien made the playoffs in four of the last six years, and twice before the arrival of Deshaun Watson. I think, sooner or later, he’ll get another shot.

Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo: Another over-60 name, Spagnuolo’s work in Kansas City has been undeniable. And like Frazier and Bowles, he’s part of the Andy Reid tree, which has spawned success stories in a lot of other places. Spagnuolo both developed young guys and incorporated star veterans in fixing what had been a really bad Chiefs D.

From Dom's Dish (@DomsDish): Who is most to blame for the Eagles QB Factory/debacle? Head coach? OC? Other offensive coaches? Injuries? GM? Owner? Players?

Dom, I think there’s a lot of blame to go around—and no lack of places to put it.

Doug Pederson was hired for his background at the position, as a player and coach. He’s on the hook. Philly also failed to replace infrastructure they lost when OC Frank Reich went to the Colts and QBs coach John DeFilippo to the Vikings in ’17, and we’re two overhauls in. GM Howie Roseman gets blame for a roster that aged because the team has had to hang on to older vets, without young guys they could count on coming up behind them.

I’m not sure where it is in all this that you’d blame owner Jeffrey Lurie, but I can say confidently that Lurie’s not pleased with the state of affairs and, because all of the above, I think the entire group, from Roseman to Pederson to Wentz to all the assistant coaches, will be under evaluation over the next month. I wouldn’t rule any result out.

And let’s wrap up with this: Wentz’s contract puts the Eagles in a tough spot, but the deal’s not untradeable, if Philly had an inclination to start over in 2021 with whoever’s in charge at that point. If you’re a team trading for him, here’s the cash for the next four years …

2021: $25.4 million

2022: $22.0 million

2023: $25.0 million

2024: $26.0 million

Total: $98.4 million

APY: $24.6 million

Only 2021 is guaranteed, meaning a team acquiring him would look at it as taking a one-year, $25.4 million flier on Wentz—with the benefit of having a three-year, below-market option on him. If it doesn’t work out, you’ve spent what the Colts spent to bring in Philip Rivers this year, and you can walk away in 2022. If it does, you get a franchise quarterback at a great rate. That APY—$24.6 million—would make Wentz the 19th-highest paid QB in the league in 2020, and it’ll only look more affordable in time.

In essence, you’d hope Wentz was Drew Brees in 2006 and worry he was Daunte Culpepper in 2006. Might be worth someone taking that swing.

As for the Eagles’ side of this, trading him would mean taking on precisely $33,820,608 million in dead cap charges. Which is a lot. But it would also eliminate $25.4 million in guaranteed money (for 2021) they owe him. That’s why the cap charge for cutting him after this year would be $59.2 million. So if they’ve made the decision they’re moving on, trading him would make things more manageable. And the dead cap charge for cutting or trading him after 2021 ($24.5 million) really isn’t that much different than the bill for trading him after this season. Basically, this is a rock-and-hard-place situation.

So for whomever’s in charge, the question is simple: Is Wentz salvageable? If the answer is no, it’s probably best to deal him before he loses any more trade value. But if they still think there’s something there, then by all means, they should do all they can in 2021 to fix him.