The regular season is over and we’re ready for the playoffs and recruiting cycle…
• The BroncosThe process, captained by new CEO Greg Penner (leader of Walton’s ownership group), is now underway and, as expected, focuses on coaches who have previous experience in the role. Four of the six candidates they plan to interview – Sean Payton, Jim Harbaugh, Dan Quinn and Raheem Morris – have previously been head coaches, with Niners defense coordinator DeMeco Ryans and in-house prospect Ejiro Evero, the team’s current DC, spearheading the team. two exceptions.
While chasing Payton or Harbaugh might look more like a recruiting than an interview, I get the feeling that Penner, who wasn’t around to hire Nathaniel Hackett, is excited to go through a thorough process and looks like he’s going to keep an open mind.
• Thing 49ers the DeMeco Ryans defense coordinator is interesting. Both the Bronco and Texans we’ve sent out interview requests for him and I think he’s a particularly strong contender in Houston where he’s been a key player for six years. From there, you will be asked where he wants to go.
Ryans earned about $50 million as a player. He is also able, as a coordinator working with the likes of Nick Bosa and Fred Warner, to continue to produce top-tier units in the league, which should protect his resources as a head coach candidate. With the financial security and stability of the reputation and team he works for, Ryans can afford to be picky, and many in the industry expect it to be.
Last year the Ryans withdrew from Vikings search. I don’t think he’d be afraid to do the same with the Broncos or the Texans if he didn’t feel like those franchises were okay.
• Speaking of Texans, with 38-year-old Ryans and both Eagles coordinators Jonathan Gannon (40) and Shane Steichen (37) asked that it was quite clear that Houston was moving in a different direction with the hiring of a head coach after hiring 60-year-olds in subsequent years (both showed their age at work in their own ways ).
As we’ve been saying for a few weeks now, Gannon is a name worth watching. He interviewed well in Houston last year and might have gotten the job had it not been for certain factors beyond his control, and has a strong connection to fellow Northeastern Ohio native Nick Caserio through a mutual friend, Josh McDaniels. Internally, there is a strong belief that Gannon would be a much better philosophical pairing for Caserio than David Culley or Lovie Smith.
Having established this, I’ll add that I’ve heard that owner Cal McNair would be wary of switching to Patriot/Patriot with his next trainer/GM pairing. So at least I know that Caserio likes and respects Patriots linebacker coach Jerod Mayo i Steelworkers Senior Defense Assistant Brian Flores, timing may not be right for any of these guys in Houston.
• Interestingly, the first three names Kevin Stefanski chose during interviews with defense coordinators – Mayo, Flores and Titans senior defense assistant Jim Schwartz – in Cleveland, they were all coaches raised by Bill Belichick. Schwartz passed from browns GM Andrew Berry also in Philadelphia and is the name that is talked about the most. But I’m not ruling out the other two. Flores could even be the club’s favourite.
As for Mayo, I understand he’s very open to taking a coordinating job elsewhere after four years as a defensive assistant in New England. Mayo performs quite a bit of coordinating duties for the Patriots, helping with game planning and running defensive meetings, but the chance to be the lead quarterback and stand-alone coordinator elsewhere would help him stand out among the ever-growing list of solid defensive-first head coach candidates over the next few years.
One thing that would help the team get Mayo as DC would be geography – I think he would like to stay within commuting distance to New England so he doesn’t have to move his family twice to become head coach. And he has the flexibility Ryans have to be picky, as strong as his reputation in the NFL.
• The change in the Titans’ offensive coordinator has been going on for some time, and it’s probably safe to say that Todd Downing didn’t lessen his chances of survival when he was charged with driving under the influence after Tennessee’s last victory a week before Thanksgiving in Green Bay.
The team’s next OC will be the fourth Mike Vrabel, and the two times he’s had to replace an outgoing coach in that role, he’s looked inward – going from Matt LaFleur to Arthur Smith in 2019 and Smith to Downing in 2021. one if it happens again, with acclaimed pass game coordinator Tim Kelly as a prime contender for the role.
If Vrabel looks outside the building, both Alabama OC Bill O’Brien (his old boss in Houston) and former Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury (former New England teammate) have strong ties to the Titans’ head coach.
• O’Brien’s name is also very popular in New England. Owner Robert Kraft expressed his dissatisfaction with the state of attacking staff towards people in the building over the past few months and referred to “a critical assessment of all elements of our football business” in a letter to season-ticket holders on Monday. Kraft also has a relationship with O’Brien, who was once considered a potential successor to Belichick.
The question is how aggressive are the Patriots to get it. Belichick was never really in a situation where he had to bid for a coordinator candidate, and almost all of his staff for those positions were promotions (Josh McDaniels was the only exception in 2012, and that was after McDaniels was fired from the Rams staff ). So if Tennessee, Vegas or Tampa come for O’Brien, will Belichick fight for him? Will Kraft address this topic? It will be interesting to see.
If not for O’Brien, Kingsbury would be another name to look out for. I can say the Patriots did their homework on it. The question would be whether Kingsbury wants to go back to being an assistant, with Cardinals paying off the remaining four years of a contract extension he signed last February.
• The Panthers they were a bit reluctant to make requests but I expect they will try to keep Steve Wilks (potentially with Eagles QBs head coach Brian Johnson as his OC) and at least look around for young offensive assistants, an area where owner David Tepper has done a lot research in the last few months.
Any names to watch? Sights OC Ben Johnson, Bengals OC Brian Callahan, Eagles OC Shane Steichen and Bills Ken Dorsey’s OC.
• Michigan RB Blake Corum sent word to my buddy Rich Eisen that he was staying in Ann Arbor for his senior year instead of turning pro. And the story is more than just that. The knee surgery Corum underwent in December was actually a full meniscus repair, an operation requiring a six-month rehabilitation process. This rehab process would have shelved Corum for the entire draft process, and in this case it would be a big deal.
Why? Corum is in a group of defenders who ranked behind Bijan Robinson of Texas and Jahmyr Gibbs of Alabama, and there could be a lot of jockeys in that group – a potential third-round pick could become a sixth-round pick and vice versa. Getting into this kind of situation with a knee injury and one where long-term viability is in doubt would be a problem, as would the fact that he wouldn’t be able to run 40 when the biggest question he faces as a prospective candidate is how fast is.
In fact, it was more of a practical decision for Corum than a romantic one. It made sense for him to come back, prove himself fit and ready to start Scouting in 2024.
• Similar situation with Ohio State TE’s Cade Stover, who played Corum in this mid-round. Stover, who spent most of his time as a college defenseman, is a raw athlete, physical and tough enough to earn the nickname Farmer Gronk (he hails from the Ohio cornfields). But in the domestic semi-finals, Stover suffered a disc injury that would cost him much, if not all, of his draft preparation.
All in all, if you’re an NFL team and you look at a raw athlete like Stover and predict his development in a position he’s still learning, you probably want to see him pick up, jump, and run. So instead of being unable to do so this spring, Stover decided it was best to go back to school, win another national title, continue to develop in his position, and then be able to train for the Scouts in 2024.
• And that’s it for now – for both Corum and Stover, I’d say NIL is more than just a nice perk they get for staying. Any guy could make more money this year as a college star than as a latecomer in the NFL.
And honestly, there’s a benefit to the league as well, because NIL keeps the guys in school and gives them more time to develop before they go to the pros. And these kids can make that call, which is always difficult, but staying on campus isn’t automatically a bad business decision.