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Mailbag: Does Brian Flores’s Firing Mean Deshaun Watson Won’t Be Traded to the Dolphins?

Why the star quarterback will likely reassess the whole market before deciding what to do with his no-trade clause. Plus, will Rich Bisaccia keep his job, should the Jets draft a wide receiver and which five nonplayoff teams have the most to look forward to next year?

Six playoff games this weekend, and most of your questions were about head coaches and coordinators on teams that didn't make it. Let's go ...

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From ryan (@ryloose): Is the idea of Watson to Miami dead?

Ryan, the answer is no. Deshaun Watson’s desire to play for the Dolphins, as I’ve heard it, was bolstered by Brian Flores’s presence there. But that was hardly the only thing Miami had going for it—there’s also a good core group on the roster, cap flexibility to allow for guys to come with the quarterback, no state income tax and, yes, the simple fact that it’s South Florida (which helps in getting guys to want to join him).

Ultimately, I think it’s probably dangerous at this point to go off last year’s assumptions.

Last year, maybe he didn’t like the idea of going back (close to) home and joining the Panthers, but could the right offensive coordinator get him to come around? Does the year the Eagles just had under Nick Sirianni improve their standing in his mind? And the Broncos don’t even have a coach right now, which seems relevant.

In the end, if clarity comes on his legal situation, then I think there’ll be plenty of suitors for Watson, and my guess is that Watson would reassess where every team involved stands. And remember, he has a no-trade clause, which can help him steer the process.

From Random Individual (@mmillsrat): Bisaccia keep the job?

Random, I think Rich Bisaccia has a chance. He has the support of the locker room. He has the support of GM Mike Mayock. And the owner really likes him. When I talked to Mark Davis about his team’s situation about a month ago, Davis conceded to me that the Raiders had started doing some background work on potential candidates for the job (“There’s always work being done”), then added, on where Bisaccia stands, “He’s the coach of the Raiders.” I do think Davis meant it—he’s wanted to give Bisaccia a real shot at winning the job.

Has Bisaccia done enough is another question, and on merit I’d say the answer is yes. The Raiders had lost two straight and were in the throes of the Jon Gruden email mess when he was elevated to head coach. He refocused the team, and got wins in Denver and over the Eagles. After that, the Raiders went through a 1–5 stretch. And then they rebounded to win four straight to close out the season.

Are those sorts of ups and downs ideal? No, they aren’t. But they did provide the players sufficient opportunity to disengage, and chalk another losing season up to the chaos around them. That didn’t happen, even after the tragic Henry Ruggs III situation. And Bisaccia deserves a lot of credit for that. Clearly, he got those guys playing for him.

Now, with a reworked business side—interim president Dan Ventrelle has served as the team’s interim president—is there a chance that the concept of a splash (Jim Harbaugh? A coach trade?) could win out? Absolutely there is. But if Vegas’s search is like the others out there, I’d think Bisaccia would have more than a puncher’s chance of staying right where he is.

From Jason B (@HeelofaPanther): What if Matt Rhule doesn’t hire a rockstar OC as Jay Glazer reported? Why hasn’t Tepper spoken and said Matt’s coming back?

Jason, there are two things to know on the Panthers’ offensive coordinator search. One, they’re focused on coordinators by trade—meaning they probably won’t project a young guy or college-rooted assistant into the job. Two, they’re going to cast a wide net, which is why you’ve already heard a wide variety of names (Bill O’Brien, Jay Gruden, Pep Hamilton).

And the needle that I believe they’ll have to thread here is getting a very involved owner sold on a guy who fits philosophically with what Rhule wants to do.

To me, that’s the crux of it. I haven’t talked to Glazer about it, but what I think he was saying here is that the owner will have to buy in on Rhule’s vision for that side of the staff, which aligns with what I believe—and wrote last Friday. The fact is, because Rhule and Tepper are such strong personalities, nothing was going to be for sure until they talked through the direction of the team in looking back at Rhule’s first two years and forward into his third.

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There was always the chance, and maybe there still is a chance, that this goes the way Philly did last year, when owner Jeffrey Lurie and coach Doug Pederson simply couldn’t get on the same page through a week of meetings, and the Eagles let Pederson go eight days after the season ended. Could that still happen with Carolina and Rhule? I don’t think it will. But the coordinator search should at least make everyone certain the fit between owner and coach is still there.

From Danny (@BetTheOver85): Is McCarthy gone if Cowboys are one-and-done?

Danny, Mike McCarthy went 12–5 in his second year, won the NFC East and landed the conference’s third seed. He’s also nailed his second shot at a defensive coordinator hire and started to develop a new wave of young stars (Micah Parsons, CeeDee Lamb, Trevon Diggs). So, it would seem, he’s given himself some breathing room.

And yet, my answer is … maybe. Why? Well, as I understand it, the Joneses love that coordinator of McCarthy’s, and Dan Quinn has already drawn a lot of head-coaching interest from other teams (the Dolphins, Jaguars, Broncos and Bears have put in for interviews with him). Quinn, it should be noted, is still getting paid by the Falcons, so the Cowboys can’t really give him a raise to entice him to stay. Would they make him the head coach to ensure it?

Ultimately, I don’t think they’d go through with something like that. I remember when they were in that sort of spot in 2008, standing to lose a coordinator they really liked (Jason Garrett), and did all they could, monetarily at least, to stop him from going to Baltimore or Atlanta. But they didn’t actually pull the plug on Wade Phillips for another two and a half years after that. That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if they’d be tempted to do it.

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From Marco (@Marco_Mier1976): So if David Culley is gone, is the rest of the coaching staff gone too? Can you think of anyone not named Josh McDaniels that would be a fit?

Marco, if Culley’s gone, I wouldn’t necessarily say the rest of the staff is—offensive coordinator Tim Kelly could certainly stick around if Nick Caserio were to hire McDaniels or Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo. Remember, Kelly was a holdover from the Bill O’Brien staff, so he’s a sort of cousin to that family and would likely match up philosophically with a New England–centric hire. Also, Kelly had a really good relationship with Deshaun Watson and has done a nice job coaching Davis Mills this year.

If Culley’s out and it’s not McDaniels? The two obvious names are Mayo and Josh McCown. Caserio and Houston EVP Jack Easterby know Mayo well from New England, and Easterby took a liking to McCown after the former quarterback spent 2020 as the team’s emergency quarterback. McCown was offered a spot on the Eagles’ coaching staff after spending a year-plus there, and interviewed for the Houston job last year.

From Keath K (@kclubkeath): Are you coming to Mobile for the Senior Bowl? I’m not as free and easy as @thekapman and can not offer you a place to stay, but I will buy you a drink.

Keath, yes! Planning to be in Mobile early that week and can’t wait for it. I’ll be downtown, and around. Always an awesome week there.

From Jonathon Williams (@Big_J_Will23): All Shad Khan has to do is pick up a phone and call literally anyone in the NFL and know that Trent Baalke isn’t the answer for this franchise in order to WIN like Khan says he’s so passionate about. Why is Khan so obsessed with Trent Baalke? Literally anyone else is better.

Jonathon, I’ve been through the answer to this before, but here it is: Baalke cultivated a strong relationship with Shad and Tony Khan after his early 2020 hire. So they elevated him to interim GM after firing Dave Caldwell last year, then made him the full-time GM after hiring Urban Meyer (Meyer conceded on picking his own GM, because he wanted investment in a new facility, his coaching staff and sport science upgrades more).

And after the Meyer hire blew up, the feeling from the Khans was that Baalke wasn’t at fault and shouldn’t have to pay the price for what went wrong over Meyer’s 11 months on the job.

Of course, the price the Jaguars have had to pay for keeping him is obvious. Certain coaches just aren’t going to go there. Why? The Athletic’s Tim Kawakami dug up this staggering fact: At the end of each of Baalke’s last five years with NFL teams, the coach has gotten fired (Jim Harbaugh, Jim Tomsula, Chip Kelly, Doug Marrone and Meyer), and only once did Baalke wind up out with him (Kelly).

Bottom line, he’s a survivor, and the implications that come with that have been enough to keep others away. Now, Baalke’s ability as a talent evaluator is definitely there. He had ups and downs, of course, as a GM, but helped to build a Super Bowl team in San Francisco, and there’s promise in his first draft class as Jaguars GM. Would that have been enough for me to keep him, if I were the Khans? Based on the track record, it wouldn’t have been. So I’m with you.

From Matt Ramas (@matt_ramas): Is the Jim Harbaugh interest in the NFL a real thing or is he just trying to leverage a new contract from Michigan?

Matt, I think his interest in the NFL has always been real. I didn’t think when he left San Francisco in 2014 for Michigan that he was done as an NFL coach. The close loss to his brother in Super Bowl XLVII left him with some unfinished business. And his record in the pros is actually exemplary. His career winning percentage of .695 ranks fifth (!) all-time (with the obvious caveat being that he coached only four seasons in the league).

Do I think he wants to go now, over staying at Michigan? I don’t know. I’ve heard he wasn’t happy about having to take a pay cut at Michigan last year, and so this sort of situation may have been inevitable—whether it was to get a raise at the school and make the people there squirm, or to go back to the NFL.

Taking all of that into account, if the right NFL opportunity comes along, the question for Harbaugh would have to be, if not now, then when? He’s 58. Last year, when he sniffed around a bunch of jobs at the pro level (the Jets and Chargers were two), he didn’t find much interest. He knows as well as anyone that having another shot isn’t automatic. So we’ll see whether someone gives him something to think about before Michigan locks him down.

From Joe Cirillo (@Jessica3112012): Do the Jets target a WR with one of their two top-10 picks?

Joe, looking at the roster and the state of the draft class, I’d say probably … not.

They have the fourth and 10th picks. The defense still needs a lot of help in the secondary and with edge rushers, and this draft class (which isn’t great at the top) will afford New York some options there. Assuming Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux are gone by No. 4, there’d be defensive back options there in LSU corner Derek Stingley Jr. and Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton. And then maybe you have Purdue rusher George Karlaftis at 10 (though some scouts aren’t as high on Karlaftis as the general public).

The receiver group this year does have really good options, and depth, but lacks a real top-10 guy, particularly after Jameson Williams tore his ACL in the title game. Which means, if you’re GM Joe Douglas, the value might be better to take care of your defense in the top 10 and double back to receiver in the thirties with your second-rounder.

From Not_DB_Cooper (@_Not_DBCooper): How likely is it that the Super Bowl is moved from L.A. to Dallas?

I could give you six billion reasons why it’s unlikely, Coop.

From Kodiak (@Slicenger7): Would Bill O’Brien taking the OC job at Carolina strengthen the Panthers’ chances on getting Deshaun?

Kodiak, that’s a fun question. O’Brien and Watson had a good relationship when O’Brien was fired in October 2020. So I certainly don’t think his presence in Carolina would be an impediment to Watson’s potentially going there. But what could be is the idea that the whole staff might be fighting for survival in ’22. Which is to say, yeah, I think a familiar face would help, but maybe not enough to overcome concern that wholesale change might be coming in a year’s time.

Like I said earlier, my guess is Watson will reset and look at the landscape for 2022 when figuring out where he might (or might not) invoke his no-trade clause.

From Ricker81 (@D_Ricker81): If Judge is feeling pressure to produce significant wins in order to keep his job, and the new GM wants to take a slow and steady rebuild approach, and understands those wins may not come in Year 1, how will that dynamic work? Seem like there would be a lot of conflict between the two.

Obviously, this question was asked before Joe Judge’s firing late Tuesday. But, Ricker, I think it does illustrate one reason why the Giants felt compelled to move on from Judge: The GM job becomes more attractive to candidates if they can pick their own guy.

From Ngoc Giang (@NgocedUp40): Will the Patriots deviate from their “script” if they start off slow. This has been apparent in the last few games.

Ngoc, I think you’ve actually seen it more in the losses to the Bills, Colts and Dolphins—when they’ve had to come from behind, you’ve seen a lot of mental toughness from Mac Jones, but also normal rookie inconsistencies (one actually ties into the other, with Mac’s ability to compartmentalize the latter revealing the former). So should the Patriots put the game in Jones’s hands earlier on?

It’s a dangerous game to play. I think the Patriots have done a masterly job nurturing Jones’s development this year—and it’s been largely by keeping him from having to play from behind or in unmanageable down-and-distance situations much. If you start flinging it around on first down, the obvious risk is he’d wind up in long-yardage more, and then the potential to fall behind early could become very real.

It’ll be an interesting dynamic to keep track of Saturday night, for sure.

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From Raymond Nuznoff (@raynuzzy): What NFL teams that missed the playoffs have the most to look forward to next season?

Raymond, here are five!

1) Chargers: Brandon Staley did a really nice job in his first year in charge, and Justin Herbert is just scratching the surface. They have some business to tend to (Mike Williams is a free agent), but there’s a lot to be excited about here.

2) Saints: Sean Payton got New Orleans to 9–8, and an overtime period played in L.A. away from the playoffs, with one of the messiest quarterback situations in the league and his No. 1 receiver on the shelf all year. I’m excited to see how the Saints’ offseason plays out—this looks like a damn attractive situation for a veteran QB to walk into.

3) Broncos: This is another team that looks like it’s a quarterback away. These Broncos, like the 2012 Broncos, have a rising young group of skill players, and a couple of cornerstone pieces on defense to lure the right quarterback in with. The coaching hire here will be interesting, for sure.

4) Browns: This is still one of the most well-rounded rosters in the NFL, with a number of rising young players. My expectation is they’ll bring in a couple of old pros, like the Cardinals did last year, to help the team learn to play better in critical spots, and help the young guys continue to grow. There’s a lot to like here.

5) Ravens: When they’re down, they don’t stay down for long; I know that. And you’d have to assume their injury luck won’t be quite so awful in 2022.

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