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Mailbag: Fits for Giants’, Raiders’, Bears’ and Broncos’ Jobs

Where should various teams look to fill head coach and general manager vacancies? Plus, why Kliff Kingsbury is likely safe and more.

Lots of mail. Lots of different topics. Let’s dive in …

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From Jim Diee (@JimDiee): Who is the best fit for the Giants’ GM job?

Jim, there’s reason to be encouraged: The list they’ve got is really good. Bills assistant GM Joe Schoen was in New Jersey for a second interview on Tuesday, Chiefs executive director of player personnel Ryan Poles was there on Wednesday and 49ers assistant GM Adam Peters will be on Thursday. And my belief is that each of those guys would have a chance to hire a coach to pair with, and all three have background with capable candidates.

With Schoen, Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll would be a name to consider. And to me, the connections to Peters and Poles are even more interesting. The former came up with Brian Flores in the Patriots’ scouting department, the two having spent four years together as grunts on that end of Bill Belichick’s operation. The latter played at Boston College right after Flores did (Poles was a BC lineman from 2003 to ’07, Flores a linebacker there from 1999 to ’02) at, yup, John Mara’s alma mater.

To me, Flores would be a really interesting fit there, with the bonus being that he’s a Brooklyn native. And there’s a lot to like in Daboll, too. So like I said, for all they’ve done wrong, I like where their process is taking them now.

From DAC (@CareFREE_DC): Odds Harbaugh is next Raiders HC?

DAC, the best way I can explain how unpredictable this situation is would be to take you all the way back to Dec. 2014, when it was clear that Jim Harbaugh was leaving the 49ers, but unclear where he’d go next. And at the time, there were whispers that he didn’t want any part of going back to college football—which left the team across the Bay in Oakland in position to land him.

Yet, there he was at the end of that month, in a maize and blue tie at a lectern in Ann Arbor, announcing his return to his alma mater.

Bottom line, I’ve learned that in these situations, it’s best to not guess on Harbaugh. Just as many predicted he’d land with the Raiders the year before, there was reason to believe the year before that he’d wind up in Cleveland, with the Browns’ offering a pair of third-round picks for his rights, only for Harbaugh himself to pull the plug. Which, of course, is to say that forecasting where he goes next would be like trying to forecast an earthquake.

There are some facts here that reveal hints, though. One, he left openings on his staff vacant for nearly two weeks following Michigan’s loss to Georgia in the Orange Bowl, which raised eyebrows in the industry with available assistant coaches being gobbled up across the country. That silence ended on Friday, when Harbaugh brought in ex-Notre Dame assistant Mike Elston to coach the Michigan defensive line.

Conversely, the Raiders’ decision to move on from GM Mike Mayock so quickly after the season ended could be read, indeed, as owner Mark Davis’s clearing the decks to offer Harbaugh whatever sort of structure he’d like. And I happen to think that part is half true. I do think Davis gave his football operation a clean slate with intention to entice the right coach to come, I’m just not sure it’s one specific coach. More so, I’d think it’s to give the team the best chance at landing a high-profile coach, period, Harbaugh being just one of the possibilities.

Now, there is mutual interest here. Davis remembers almost landing Harbaugh in 2015, and Harbaugh’s got an affinity for the Raiders going back to spending his first two years as a coach with the organization, under Bill Callahan. So, sure, there are reasons why this one makes sense. And also reasons why it might not happen.

I also wouldn’t dismiss the team’s aggression in getting Patriots director of player personnel Dave Ziegler in for an interview. They’re also interviewing Bears exec Champ Kelly, who worked with Zielger in Denver, and could conceivably be a top lieutenant for Ziegler in Vegas, as could current Raiders exec, and ex-Patriots scout, DuJuan Daniels. And that could lead to the Raiders’ landing a high-profile New England–connected coach.

From Brandon Beam (@BrandonBeam971): AB, what’s the dream scenario for the Bears in their search for a HC/GM combo platter?

Beam! I think in a perfect world, maybe it would be Harbaugh or Ohio State’s Ryan Day, and a GM to match with them. More likely, at this point, would be an experienced “leader of men” type—at least that’s the archetype they’ve drilled down on finding as their search has moved into its second week.

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The name that’s consistently come up with the Bears is Bills defensive coordinator, and former Vikings coach, Leslie Frazier. He’s got experience and the leadership traits they’re looking for, with obvious ties to the franchise from his days as a Bears defensive back in the ’80s, and he’s also got connections with Bill Polian, who has a strong voice in the search, having been hired to consult. Polian and Frazier won a Super Bowl together in Indianapolis. (It’s worth noting that Jim Caldwell has connections to Polian too.)

Who would Frazier’s GM be? I think that would be wide open. But it’s worth at least considering that Browns VP of player personnel Glenn Cook was brought into the league by Polian in 2011, so there very well might be a match there.

And the wild card, Beam, would be Brian Flores. His availability, I believe, changed the dynamic in some of these searches, and he’s already interviewed with the Bears.

From Cork Screw (@corkscrew49): Denver HC/OC/QB plan A?

Cork Screw, here’s Plan A: Dan Quinn as head coach, Luke Getsy as offensive coordinator, Aaron Rodgers as quarterback. Is it far-fetched? Maybe it is. I picked the Packers to win the Super Bowl, and I think if that happens the likelihood is that Rodgers would stay put in Green Bay. But I also think it’s pretty easy to look at where the Broncos are, and we’ve been over this before, and see where they’d be able to offer Rodgers a lot of what they were able to offer to Peyton Manning all the way back in 2012.

The other thing that I think has been interesting about Denver’s approach to the interview process is that you’re seeing some newer names. Getsy’s is one. The Broncos were the first team to put in for Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell and Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan (neither calls plays) as well, and are interviewing Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo Wednesday.

And to be clear, I think Broncos GM George Paton is genuinely curious about those guys as head coaching candidates. But … this certainly could be like Tennessee in 2018, when the Titans interviewed Matt LaFleur for their head-coaching job, with the idea that if he didn’t win the job, he might leave the Rams for the opportunity to call plays. Which is what he wound up doing, taking the O.C. job after Tennessee picked Mike Vrabel as head coach.

From yossarian (@DreedleGeneral): If DeMeco Ryans leaves the 49ers for an HC Job, could they get Fangio back? Alternative question, could the 49ers make Lynch the president to keep Peters as a GM?

Dreedle, I wouldn’t rule out the idea of Vic Fangio going back to the Niners. Fangio left after Harbaugh’s late 2014 departure from San Francisco, and Adam Gase actually tried to get him on board with going back to the Niners with him in 2016 (Gase wound up landing the job in Miami instead). So the organization has great background with Fangio, and it wouldn’t be a stunner to see Shanahan tap into that, if he was O.K. with a scheme change.

As for Adam Peters’s potential departure, I’d just say that if Peters gets the chance to run the show somewhere else, and especially with a historic franchise like the Giants, my guess is the Niners, and Lynch, would congratulate him and wish him the best. Even if you shuffle titles and give a guy more money, what most guys in Peters’s position aspire to do is run their own show. And the Niners wouldn’t be able to offer him that.

(Plus, the Niners have a team president already.)

From LaRockStar (@LaRocque_Star): Why does it seem like the national media has a negative feel when it comes to Mac?

La Rock, my take is that people have, rightly, said nice things about the Patriots for so long, that even mild criticism has come off as more than that to fans of the team. And so when people say that Mac Jones has a chance to be really good, but maybe not great, that’s digested as a shot. Is it really?

Well, to me, it’s founded on where Jones is and where he’s been. The knock on Alabama players entering the draft has forever been the same—a lot of times, they’re beat up and maxed out. Beat up, because it’s a demanding program, practices there are intense and the team’s playing style is physical. And maxed out, because they’re exceedingly well-coached, and there’s always a chance Nick Saban got everything out of a guy that he has.

You add that to Jones’s physical limitations, and it’s fair to ask these sorts of questions. His rep coming into the NFL was that he was as ready for the league as a quarterback could be—because of his own football acumen, and ability to process and see the field fast, and the program he was coming from. That’s proven true. And so how much room is there for him to grow? We’ll see.

And that’s not an insult, the same way the comp I used last year for him (Chad Pennington) wasn’t an insult either. Pennington was a really good player, but fell short of being great. That’s how scouts saw Jones coming out. I don’t think that enough has changed since to believe that won’t be the case. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot to like about Jones. I think he’s got a good chance to be the Patriots’ quarterback for a long time to come.

From Dan (@DSheehan77): What makes Jonathan Gannon a popular interview candidate?

Dan, Gannon is one of those guys that the public doesn’t know as much about, but football people have long thought very highly of him—sort of the same way his former staff-mate Kevin Stefanski was seen as he ascended through the ranks in Minnesota, or Arthur Smith was coming up in Tennessee. Gannon’s football pedigree is very solid, and though he just became a coordinator for the first time, he was on the precipice of it for a couple of years.

Then, there are those connections. Minnesota’s interviewing him, and the Vikings know what he can do, given that he was there from 2014 to ’17. The Broncos are another team that put in for him, and their GM, George Paton, is from Minnesota too. And the Texans are run by GM Nick Caserio, who has Northeast Ohio connections to Gannon—Gannon has long been on Josh McDaniels’s prospective staff lists (that’s actually how Gannon wound up in Indy), and obviously McDaniels and Caserio go way back.

Is there an old-boys-network element to all of that? Sure. But I also think it says something that the teams considering taking a shot on him maybe a year or two before most would consider it are run by people who know him well. To me, that’s a very real positive.

From Chris (@burns_13): Patriots and linebackers. How do they get better next year with perhaps Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower and Ja’Whaun Bentley gone?

Chris, the free-agent crop at linebacker this year is really thin, headed by aging vets and second-chance guys who probably would equate the Patriots’ spinning their wheels at the position. So if Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Collins are gone, New England has its work cut out for it in trying to find the speed it needs to add there.

The good news is there are some good Day 2–type off-ball linebackers in the draft and—absent someone like Nakobe Dean slipping to the Patriots at No. 21—that should give the Patriots options, even if it’s a little difficult to go through free agency without truly addressing that spot.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Patriots aren’t flush with cap space like they were a year ago, particularly if they wind up tagging J.C. Jackson.

From Kris Hudson (@KrisHudsonCRE): AB, what's the lead city for NFL expansion, if and when it happens? My guess is Austin. I don't have a dog in this fight. Thx.

Kris, I wouldn’t hold my breath on domestic expansion if I were you. I just don’t think owners are going to want to split up their fortune two or four more ways without a city that really adds to the NFL’s ability to generate revenue. So I think the next time the NFL expands, if that day ever comes, my guess would be it’s somewhere outside the U.S.

From Mike Liddle (@mliddle17): Will this year’s offense coordinator pick determine the fate of Matt Rhule in Carolina beyond this year?

Mike, I think it’s fair to say that. Rhule’s fate, to me, rides on his ability to get the quarterback right. And if the determination a year from now is that Rhule’s program has taken the Year 3 jump it did at Temple and Baylor, then that’ll mean the quarterback spot is fixed, which will necessitate the offensive coordinator doing a good job.

If he lands, say, Deshaun Watson, and Watson looks great, then the coordinator will get credit for it. If he lands Watson, and Watson doesn’t play well, my guess is owner David Tepper would be looking for a new coach to fix that. Similarly, if he gets someone like Jimmy Garoppolo, and Garoppolo is lights out, that means the coordinator hire worked. If he ends up with Garoppolo, and Garoppolo flames out like Sam Darnold did, then it would be curtains.

Pretty simple.

From Wendell Ferreira (@wendellfp): If Nathaniel Hackett gets a HC job, who might the Packers consider as the new OC?

Wendell, I think ideally it would be Getsy. The trouble comes if both Hackett and Getsy wind up elsewhere, which isn’t likely, but is possible. The good news is LaFleur has a nice group of promising young offensive assistants, with run-game coordinator/line coach Adam Stenavich, receivers coach Jason Vrable and tight ends coach Justin Outten all highly thought of internally.

My guess, in that scenario, would probably have Stenavich taking on more responsibility, with either Vrable or Outten getting a pass-game coordinator title.

From Tom Marshall (@aredzonauk): Despite his late season failings, is Kliff Kingsbury safe for 2022?

Tom, I think Kingsbury is going to be O.K. The Cardinals did have a personnel meeting set for Tuesday that wound up being canceled, which raised some concern. Also, VP of pro scouting Adrian Wilson has a growing voice in the organization, and it’s always worth considering when there’s someone new at the table for these sorts of discussion.

But my sense is things have calmed down inside the building.

And I don’t really think the Cardinals should pull the plug now. Kingsbury’s taken the worst team in the NFL three years ago to the playoffs, with improvement every year, and solid quarterback development. And firing Kingsbury would mean a complicated coaching search they’d be diving into late—with a unique quarterback, who happens to be a great fit for their current coach, but might not be for everyone.

So yeah, I’d stick with Kliff.

From Not who you think I am (@DonRidenour): Doubts on a second contract for Kyler?

Don, it feels to me like, if Kingsbury’s going into a fourth year, the Cardinals would press pause on negotiating a new contract with Murray, with the obvious risk being that his price goes up.

From Matt Ramas (@matt_ramas): With how the Cowboys’ season ended this weekend, how likely is it that Mike McCarthy gets replaced by Kellen Moore as HC?

Matt, I do think they’ll stick with McCarthy. But if they don’t? My guess is Quinn would be the guy. 

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