Mailbag: What Makes Urban Meyer a Match for the Jaguars?

Urban Meyer wouldn’t just be a coach, but a transformative presence in Jacksonville. Plus, answering questions about Jason Garrett’s future, DeVonta Smith’s draft stock, Cam Newton’s landing spot and a note to cheer up Browns fans.
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Wild-card weekend is approaching, so here we go with this week’s mailbag …

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From #1 OVERALL PICK ENERGY #16 (@CoachHesterWFP): Is Urban Meyer the only real candidate Shad Khan wants until he passes?

All right, No. 1 overall pick, since we put you on the Urban Meyer–Jaguars trail almost a month ago now, I can give you some more background. There’s been some level of communication between Meyer and the Jaguars, through intermediaries and directly, for close to a month, if not longer. And I believe the job is Meyer’s if he wants it, and I think getting him would be a steal.

The Jaguars need a housecleaning the same way the Bills did before Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott performed one (and did so very successfully). This can’t be about changing out a couple of people. This has to be an overall reimagination of the organization—EVP Tom Coughlin tried to make this happen, and there was progress for a year before that effort stalled out. To do that, I believe they need someone who’ll come in with holistic ideas.

That is Meyer, and that’s why I think this makes sense. With the former Florida and Ohio State coach, the transformation would involve more than assistants. It’d be strength coaches and player development staff and nutritionists—really, he’d be bringing in a program more than a staff. So I believe he’d need, more than just a certain salary, a budget to overhaul much of the organization, in the same sort of way he did in Gainesville and Columbus.

Bottom line, if you’re looking at this hire just from a, “Well, what kind of offense is he going to run?” perspective, you’re missing the forest for the trees. And for these reasons, and because I’m told he’s already looked at potential staffing on that level, which reflects a plan to do all of this, I think he’s what Jacksonville needs.

Will he do it? I don’t know. The consideration of his health is real. I’ve heard he loves his job at Fox and has found competition in it. But I do think it’d be hard for him to say no to a chance to coach Trevor Lawrence in a place with all those picks (multiple in the first, second, fourth, fifth and seventh rounds) and cap space (most in the NFL for 2021), and where, as a bonus, he can restore his legacy after his departure from Florida rubbed people there the wrong way.

We’ll see what happens. I think Shad Khan will make him say no. And if he does, the Jaguars, based on the fact that they’ve put requests in on other candidates, should be ready to roll with all of those pluses to sell to someone else. Despite the issues I laid out, this is a really good job, and one where coaches have been given time to build.

From Joshua Walker (@Jags_Walker): What is a realistic timeline for an Urban Meyer decision on joining the NFL ranks?

If you’re Jacksonville, you want an answer by this weekend, I’d say. Teams in the wild-card round have to make their assistants available for interviews after their games—meaning to have a Brian Daboll or an Arthur Smith in, you’ll have to plan it before or right around then. And if those guys are picking who they want to interview with, because they don’t have time for all of them, they may opt against choosing to sit down with a team that’s working to hire someone else.

That said, back here in the real world, the Jags are going to give Meyer the time he needs.

From DootDoot (@sdfh16): If Jason Garrett doesn’t get a HC job will Giants move on from him as OC or give him another year?

Doot, I do think there’s been a philosophical gap that’s needed to be bridged on the Giants’ staff this year. Fact is, Joe Judge’s Patriots-imported program is very specific in how to scheme and coach and teach, and though Garrett has a Nick Saban background, the Dallas-ized offensive side wasn’t a perfect fit—and that friction was highlighted by what happened with offensive line coach Marc Colombo in midseason.

So yeah, I think Joe Judge and Garrett will have direct and honest conversations about where the offense is going and make a decision from there. The Mara family loves Garrett, of course, and I don’t think there’s any specific issue between the head coach and his offensive coordinator. Garrett’s a really great guy, and I think he’d be amenable to tweaking and adjusting to fit where Judge’s vision is for the team going forward.

From CheenoFly (@CheenoFly): With DeVonta Smith winning the Heisman Trophy, does that help his draft stock secure a landing at No. 3 to reunite with Tua?

Cheeno, I don’t know that DeVonta Smith will go that high—and the problem relates right back to why he’s such a great story. His size is an issue. Alabama lists him at 6' 1" and 175 pounds, which probably means he’s a little shorter and smaller than that. NFL teams, in these situations, do work off of comps. And since 2010, 11 receivers have gone in the top 10 picks.

Two of the nine were less 6' 3/4" and 205 pounds. Neither went in the top five, and neither (Cincinnati’s John Ross and St. Louis’s Tavon Austin) worked out as a pro.

Now, that’s not to say that Smith can’t be different. I talked to some scouts who believed Smith was a better player than Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy—his Alabama teammates who went in the top 15 last year—before his outrageous Heisman season. So there’s definitely a lot of love for him out there with teams and belief that he’ll make it in the NFL. But do teams love him in the top five? Over a quarterback, Micah Parsons or Penei Sewell? That’s where I think you run into the issue for Smith.

Right or wrong, teams look for guys who are the total package athletically—who have a package of traits that would be rare to find elsewhere in the draft—when they’re drafting that high. And that’s why I have no reservation saying Smith will be a top-15 pick, but have a harder time seeing him going in the top five.

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From Strick 9 (@SpiderStrick): Albert, you’ve mentioned Ryan Cowden, Joe Schoen, Marty Hurney and Martin Mayhew for GM in Washington. Are other hires being considered as well? If Kyle Smith leaves for another opportunity, will they beef up the personnel department? Will they, if the GM isn’t from a scouting background?

Strick, the fact that I left Kyle Smith, Washington’s VP of player personnel, out of that mix a few weeks back got way more attention than I thought it would. To be clear, Smith’s rep is very strong, and I think he has a bright future and will probably get an interview for the job there. But I think the concern would be promoting him twice in such a short time frame, and also his readiness for a job that’s about a lot more than just scouting.

The other part of it—dangling the GM job elsewhere gives you an opportunity to go after the very best who don’t have that title yet. Cowden and Schoen both have connections to Ron Rivera through Carolina, as does, obviously, Hurney. Mayhew shares an agent with Rivera and has experience as a GM, just like Hurney does. So the idea of using this chance to stack the scouting department makes some sense.

How could it look? Well, imagine you have Hurney in a senior role with Cowden as GM and Smith as VP of player personnel. That gives you a guy with GM experience, a guy who’s been a prime GM candidate for other teams for a few years and a rising star, with all three guys having background with your head coach. That would be a pretty good conclusion, if you ask me.

From Jeanette Becker (@jshu22): In light of the latest Browns news, what is the NFL’s criteria to determine a COVID outbreak and postponement?

Jeanette, the lack of specific numbers and thresholds on this front was, and still is in some cases, a frustration of coaches and football execs across the NFL. But the league wanted to give itself flexibility in an uncertain situation, and it’s mostly worked out in accomplishing the goal, which was to play 256 games in 17 weeks and start the playoffs on time.

As for postponing a game, there is one standard here that’s been firm, and that’s that games will be moved for medical reasons but not competitive reasons. The Denver situation is a good example. COVID-19 cleared out the Broncos’ quarterback room, but only Jeff Driskel tested positive ahead of the team’s game against the Saints. Because the other guys weren’t positive, what happened in Denver wasn’t really an outbreak—and thus it was deemed safe to play the game, which the teams involved infamously did.

On the flip side, COVID-19 ripped through the workplaces of the Titans and Ravens, and their games were postponed as a result. And in the case of the Browns, the cases involved, per the league, didn’t originate in the team facility. If they had, the game could be postponed. Since they didn’t, it won’t be. And if that changes, and cases are linked to the team’s practice facility, then the game could be moved.

I know it doesn’t seem fair to long-suffering Browns fans. The reality is this year was never going to be fair.

From LionsFan24 (@DetLionsFan24): Anything to the John Schneider/Lions stuff? Could it be a match with Robert Saleh?

LionsFan, I wouldn’t totally rule it out, but I do think the Lions are at least a little leery it could be a contract play. That said, landing Schneider, going into the last year of his deal in Seattle, would be a big-time score for the star-crossed franchise, and it would open the door to land Robert Saleh as part of a package deal, since the two know each other well from Seattle (three of the four guys on Saleh’s GM list for Cleveland last year—Ed Dodds, Trent Kirchner and Scott Fitterer—were Seahawks coworkers of his).

And no doubt, someone like Schneider would bring a level of credibility to the organization.

The other part that’s interesting here is that the Lions feel like they can go with a scouting type on this hire, with president Rod Wood and VP of football administration Mike Disner in house to support the new GM. Schneider would touch that base and so much more with 11 years of experience in the GM’s seat. So yeah, if I was Detroit, I’d move heaven and earth to do it, if it was truly on the table.

From Shaner (@Shaner_138): What team does Cam Newton go to? Or is he done? Does Pittsburgh make a move for Wentz or Darnold?

Shaner, the natural landing spot for Newton would be Washington. He played nine years for coach Ron Rivera and has a close relationship with offensive coordinator Scott Turner, and Turner was there for Newton’s brief 2018 renaissance (before injuries felled all of that). And Washington will be picking no higher than 19th in April’s draft, likely putting the team out of range for the Justin Fields and Zach Wilsons of the world. Newton, if healthy, could help stopgap the position.

What happens if Washington goes another direction, like trading for, say, Matthew Stafford? Then I’m really not sure what Newton would do. I don’t know that another team will say, Yeah, Cam, here you go, you’re the starter. Is he willing to go to a new place and fight for a roster spot with no assurances? I think it’s an interesting question, because he’s never really been in this sort of spot before (save for maybe a reclamation year in junior college).

As for the Steelers, I do think they’ll be in the market for a young quarterback this offseason. Some who know GM Kevin Colbert well believe that his retirement will tie to Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, and I’d guess he wants to give the franchise a path to the next guy. I’ve felt all along that flipping a late first-rounder for Darnold or taking on a young fixer-upper project like Carson Wentz or Jameis Winston would make sense.

From paul pop jr (@pmpjr): Just tell me it’s going to be okay as a Browns fan. Just lie to me.

Paul, you’ve got a young coach (38) and a young GM (33) and a young quarterback (25) in place, and a great foundation with cornerstone pieces like Jedrick Wills, Myles Garrett, Nick Chubb, Denzel Ward, Odell Beckham Jr., Austin Hooper and Jarvis Landry in place. This was a year of transition, and you still won 11 games, your most since the last year Bill Belichick and Nick Saban were together in northeast Ohio. The future remains bright.

How’s that?

(Yeah, I do feel really bad for a fan base that had its team taken away, got it back 21 years ago, and has made the playoffs only once, 18 years ago, since, having to deal with this in their first shot back on the postseason stage. It sucks. No sugarcoating it. But like I said, the future is still bright!)