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Mailbag: Why Do So Many GMs Get Second Chances Instead of New Candidates Getting Hired?

The NFL playoffs are in full swing, but the coach and GM carousels are still top of everyone’s mind. Plus, what the Jets would give up for Deshaun Watson, the QB situations in Detroit and San Francisco, and Peyton Manning’s future.

With four teams left, most of your questions were on the other 28. So let’s dive in …


From T (@BucWild007): Why do teams constantly recycle people (WFT and Hurney) versus looking at new blood or someone outside of the inner circle of retreads?

It’s a fair question, T—Ron Rivera did run the search in D.C., and the names the team cycled through were all connected to him. Both ex-Panthers GM Marty Hurney and Titans exec Ryan Cowden worked with him in Carolina, while ex-Lions GM/current 49ers exec Martin Mayhew shares an agent with him. But, really, I don’t have a huge issue with that. I think any coach, charged with leading a search, would seek that sort of alignment.

My question here really would be if there’s a succession plan in place, and some checks and balances ensuring the 30,000-foot view is being considered. I think it’s reasonable to ask, given that Hurney’s 65, and given that I had the idea floated to me by a number of people that Hurney could come aboard in a senior role with someone like Cowden as GM, since Washington didn’t need to convince Hurney to leave another job.

That said, I think there is infrastructure in place as is to pull it off. VP of player personnel Kyle Smith—son of former Chargers GM A.J. Smith—is a gifted evaluator, promoted to his current role right after Rivera was hired last year. My sense is the team didn’t think he was quite ready to be GM yet. But after a few years working with Hurney, it certainly stands to reason that a smooth handoff could take place.

From daddy shark (@Daddyshark0629): Is the Eagles’ job now the worst available gig in the NFL? Which says a lot considering they are only a few years removed from a championship and the Texans’ front office is in shambles with Watson.

Daddy, I’m going to paraphrase a line that I know Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick have given their lieutenants as they seek head coach and GM jobs: The owner is important because it’s the one thing you can’t change. Philly has challenges, to be sure. But I think Jeffrey Lurie has proven over the years to be a really solid owner, who mostly pushes the right buttons with his football people and has a good feel for running a franchise.

That should not be undersold, because we’ve seen in other places how shaky ownership can create problems that spread through an organization.

That said, you’re right to say this situation isn’t as good as the one Chip Kelly walked into in 2013 or Doug Pederson entered in 2017. Those guys had relatively clean cap situations and paths to find their quarterbacks of the future, without being 100% locked into someone else’s franchise player. In this case, Philly has an aging roster, a bloated cap and an awkward quarterback situation.

There’s a lot of work to be done, for sure. But I think it’s important to recognize here that eating a bunch of dead money (like the current Buffalo regime did in 2017) can make a bad cap situation a one-year problem, the Eagles do have the sixth pick in a rich quarterback year, and the age of some of those on the roster could give the new coach a shot to be competitive in Year 1, then do his teardown in Year 2 (again, à la Buffalo).

That is, if you wanna look at it that way.

From Gerry Levine (@gerrylev): What price should the Jets be willing to pay for Deshaun Watson?

Great question, Gerry, and to answer this one, I reached back into the archive to try and find myself some sort of comp—which wasn’t easy. The best I could do, at least over the time I’ve been covering the league, would be the Jay Cutler situation in Denver. And I know it probably sounds like sacrilege to compare Cutler to Watson. But I promise you, the way Cutler was looked at coming out of 2008 was comparable to how Watson is viewed, as a young, high-end franchise quarterback with a lot of room still to grow.

These were the terms of Denver’s deal with Chicago that made Cutler a Bear.

Broncos get: QB Kyle Orton, 2009 first-round pick (18th overall), 2009 third-round pick, 2010 first-round pick.

Bears get: QB Jay Cutler, 2009 fifth-round round pick.

When the deal was made, Orton was a 26-year-old quarterback with starting experience—so he could at the very least stopgap for Denver—which means this deal, really, was a competent starting QB, a mid-first-round pick, a future one and a three for Cutler and a five. Given that there’s been some inflation in the trade market, and quarterbacks’ value since 2009, I think the fair offer here might be Sam Darnold (better than Orton), the second pick (better than the 18th), and a future first, plus some sort of later-round pick swap.

If I’m the Texans, I do not do that. But if I’m the Jets, I think that’s around where my offer would be (and you’d have to work out whether the 2022 pick is your own or Seattle’s too).

From Jason Kroulik (@crowlick): Who will be the offensive and defensive coordinators for the Lions?

Jason, here’s a simple answer to the second part of your question: It’s going to be Saints secondary coach Aaron Glenn. And I’d really hope that Dan Campbell puts some sort of succession plan in place, because I think Glenn will get a head coaching job with a good year or two reworking the Detroit defense. So while finding good position coaches is always a priority, I think Campbell should be seeking guys he sees as coordinators by 2022 or ‘23.

On the offensive side, I think Campbell will take a little more time to sort through things. One interesting thing to follow here is whether Campbell goes with a Sean Payton protégé to run it, because Matthew Stafford actually has a level of experience with that, having had Saints QB coach Joe Lombardi as his offensive coordinator during Jim Caldwell’s first two years in Detroit (2014 and ‘15).

From Edward Mugarian (@newmoonscribe): Brad Holmes presented what’s been called a “bold” plan to Lions’ ownership. Does that mean Matt Stafford will be traded?

Edward, I don’t know for sure either way. But I do not think that keeping Stafford is some sort of terrible idea. First of all, he’s 32 years old in an era in which quarterbacks are making it to 40. Second, his contract has matured into one that looks relatively reasonable—he’s due $43 million in cash and set to count $59 million against the cap over the next two seasons. Third, having a franchise-level placeholder can position a team well to get the next guy.

I know I’ve used this example before, and beaten it into the ground, but I’ll say again that Alex Smith in Kansas City is a great example. If the Chiefs had decided to just take a quarterback in 2013, they were looking at a class headed up by E.J. Manuel, Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and Ryan Nassib. Instead, trading for Smith allowed them to sit back and wait for one they truly thought was special, and win in the interim.

When that guy, Patrick Mahomes, came along, the roster was built up to the point where they were comfortable flipping a bunch of draft capital to go get him. The rest is history.

So if you hang on to Stafford, you can survey your options with the seventh pick, and if the right quarterback isn’t there, you can punt on the position and just draft Ja'Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Micah Parsons or Rashawn Slater. And then, you just keep looking while new GM Brad Holmes keeps working over the roster. Which, again, worked out pretty well in Kansas City.

From Michael Holland (@msg_holland): Who should the Dolphins hire as OC to develop Tua? And I say they trade down from three to 10 and take Kyle Pitts, thoughts?

Michael, great question! There are three candidates off Miami’s initial list who are still available: Chargers’ QBs coach Pep Hamilton, and internal candidates George Godsey and Eric Studesville. Of the three, I think Godsey is the one that I’d look at hardest, because he has an established relationship with Tua Tagovailoa and a ton of background working with young quarterbacks. I’d also add a name I think they should look at, and that’s Colts’ QB coach Marcus Brady.

Indy’s offense is incredibly QB-friendly, and the RPO game that Frank Reich has deftly implemented with the Colts (which he brought from Philly) mirrors the scheme that got the most out of Tagovailoa at Alabama.

As for a trade down, really, the Dolphins’ ability to get out of the third pick (I agree that would probably be a little rich for Pitts) will 100% be a function of how the spring evolves for Ohio State’s Justin Fields, BYU’s Zach Wilson and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. If those quarterbacks get hot, then the Jets have a market for the second pick and Miami for the third pick. If those guys get hot and the Jets take one at No. 2, the Dolphins could get even more for the pick. Or maybe they’ll just … take one of them.

Should be a fascinating draft-cycle.

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From Jaguar_Phil (@Jaguar_phil): What is the feeling around the league about the Jags going with Baalke for GM?

Phil, I’ll take you through what I know here. And I had this part in my MMQB column on Monday: Trent Baalke’s been a favorite of ownership. There’s a connection there in that 49ers’ exec Paraag Marathe, who worked with Baalke for years, has become a sounding board for Jags SVP of football technology and analytics Tony Khan, and Baalke came to Jacksonville in part on Baalke’s recommendation. From there, Baalke was lined up to be interim GM when Dave Caldwell was fired and positioned when Urban Meyer was hired.

Meyer wasn’t told, as far as I can tell, that Baalke had to be the pick. But ownership definitely supported him. When word got out that Baalke was closing in on the job over the weekend, the Jaguars got calls from people in the scouting community on the potential hire. And ultimately, they moved forward with Baalke, and fast enough that Baalke was working on assembling new staff on Monday and starting to interview candidates for it.

This might work out. Meyer’s ultimately got the hammer. I think Baalke will bring in staff—ex-Niners’ and Eagles’ exec Tom Gamble is one name I’ve heard, and Gamble’s an excellent evaluator. Both Baalke and Gamble have experience working with coaches coming from college (both did with Jim Harbaugh; Gamble did with Chip Kelly).

I’d just be leery on the one big hire here that Meyer’s fingerprints aren't all over, especially so given the fireworks that we saw between Harbaugh and Baalke seven years ago.

From sheila marie dizon (@sheilamdizon): What do you think the 49ers’ plan will be regarding their quarterback situation?

I think it is what it’s been: The Niners are open to an upgrade but would be O.K. going forward with their current quarterback. It’s not a terrible spot to be in. The Raiders have gotten good play from Derek Carr in that sort of scenario. I think you could see the Rams being in that sort spot now, too. It’s, again, where the Chiefs were for all those years with Smith.

It’s sort of like being in a month-to-month lease while you’re looking for a house. Without a set date when you have to buy, you have flexibility to find something you really like.

So maybe they really like one of the draft quarterbacks and will trade up from No. 12. Maybe they’ll deal for someone like Sam Darnold. Maybe they see Matt Ryan as a better stopgap than Jimmy Garoppolo, if Atlanta makes him available. Regardless of any of that, they’ve got the choice to stand pat or get aggressive at the most important position, and not compromise the rest of the team’s fortunes, and that’s a good place to be in.

From Moose Block (@moose_block): What do you think is the long-term goal for Peyton Manning? Coaching? Front office? Ownership?

Hey Moose, I think the likelihood is that Peyton Manning will be, at some point, running a team from the same sort of position that John Elway has for the last decade. I know he’s studied the way franchises work, watched Elway while he was with him in Denver and has talked to some people in those sorts of positions about what goes into the job. He was always curious as a player on the team-building process, transactions, etc., too.

All signs point in that direction—which raises the question, Why hasn’t it happened yet?

From what I’ve heard, Manning’s really enjoyed his retirement, living in Denver, raising his kids and engaging in different projects and opportunities on his own time. I think eventually he’ll get the itch; the right situation will coalesce and he’ll dive in. Maybe it’ll be as part of an ownership group somewhere down the line. But that he hasn’t done it yet—he turns 45 in March—is at least notable.

From Daniel Trugman (@dtrugman2): College coaches are often mentioned for NFL searches, but aren’t some just much better fits at the NCAA level? For example, David Shaw is an incredible college coach and leader of young men, but very often watching his offense play is like pulling teeth ...

Daniel, I don’t think there was any lack of interest in college coaches this year. More than half the teams with openings reached out to college coaches and at least explored the possibility. Four that I know of at least tested the waters with Iowa State’s Matt Campbell. Stanford’s David Shaw and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald have long been on the NFL radar, and I think both would get jobs quickly if they chose to leave their alma maters. Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and Ohio State’s Ryan Day have become NFL white whales.

So yeah, there are certain guys who are better fits for college—you hear people say that about Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, for example (though those who know him would push back on that notion). And that’s natural. NFL head coach and college head coach are two very different jobs, that require some similar and some different sets of skills. But I don’t think at all that coming from college should be a disqualifying trait for NFL candidates.

My feeling is Matt Rhule will pretty emphatically prove that in the years to come.

From Matt Ramas (@matt_ramas): Did Cam Newton’s inconsistency this year limit Josh McDaniels and his HC opportunities?

Matt, yes, in that it may have led to some new questions about flexibility of McDaniels’s scheme, and how much Tom Brady was responsible for the success of that offense over the last 20 years. That said, I think, more than anything, the dip in production was about the group that was assembled around Newton, and Newton’s fits and starts coming back off the injuries. And if you look at McDaniels’s history, there’s a good track record here on being able to flip the offense around for different types of quarterbacks.

He made it work back in the day with a more mobile quarterback, in Matt Cassel, who hadn’t started a game since high school, after Tom Brady got hurt in 2008. He got career-best numbers from Orton after the Cutler trade in Denver. He built a more downfield-focused offense with Jimmy Garoppolo during Brady’s suspension. And maybe most impressive was what he did after Garoppolo got hurt in 2016 thereafter.

With a rookie third-stringer, in Jacoby Brissett, coming in, and a Thursday night game on tap, McDaniels basically put in an option offense to get the Patriots through. The Patriots won 27–0, Brissett (11-for-19, 103 yards; eight rushes, 48 yards, TD) was just fine, and that they were able to literally change their identity on the fly is a good indication of who McDaniels really can be as a coach.

I think what was exciting about this year for him was that he’d get to swing some clubs he’d had in his bag for a while, but weren’t right for a Brady-led offense. Unfortunately, the lack of talent on that side of the ball in New England short-circuited all of that. So I think Philly’s doing well to look deeper into it, and understand that McDaniels is still a very capable offensive mind with strong second-chance head-coaching potential.

From Not who you think I am (@DonRidenour): With the new GM in Denver, how safe are the coaches there?

Don, I think they’re safe for right now, but under evaluation. That George Paton was the pick tells me that Elway really will be taking a step back, and probably soon walk away altogether. That’ll make it Paton’s show, and position Paton to make decisions on Vic Fangio and his staff after the 2021 season.

Paton’s also got a connection we’ve mentioned here before, to Fitzgerald, who’d be an interesting fit if the Broncos are looking after this year. But first comes the assessment of Fangio, so it’s not like a change is any sort of fait accompli.

From Shedrick Carter (@shedrickcarter2): Last two coaching spots, who gets them?

Shedrick! Let’s finish here—let’s say McDaniels in Philly, with Colts’ assistant Jonathan Gannon to run his defense; and Leslie Frazier in Houston, with either Colts QB coach Marcus Brady or incumbent Houston OC Tim Kelly running the offense.