Colts To Interview 49ers GM Finalist George Paton

The Colts’ list of candidates for their GM role thus far consists entirely of executives who interviewed with the 49ers as well, and one may have a choice to make. George Paton will interview with the Colts, Ben Goessling of ESPN.com reports.

Indianapolis requested an interview with Paton, along with Seahawks co-player personnel directors Scott Fitterer and Trent Kirchner, earlier today. Paton is scheduled to meet with the 49ers again on Friday or Saturday, per NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter), where he’s slated to join Falcons’ OC Kyle Shanahan, Tom Pelissero of USA Today reports (via Twitter). Pelissero adds the Colts hope to meet with GM candidates in the next few days. They are also scheduled to meet with internal candidate Jimmy Raye III.

While each of the Colts’ candidates has interviewed with the 49ers, Paton is unique because he is a finalist for the San Francisco job. He’s “very much” the leader in that race, Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star tweets. Complicating matters, the Colts have proven to feature a more stable environment, Ryan Grigson‘s ouster notwithstanding, in recent years. The 49ers became the first team in nearly 40 years to fire first-year coaches in back-to-back years, and the Colts obviously have a long-term quarterback in Andrew Luck. Despite underwhelming at 8-8, the Colts won more games in 2016 than the 49ers did in the past two seasons combined.

A 10-year Vikings exec, Paton rejected opportunities to leave Minnesota in recent years. But this time Rick Spielman‘s top staffer appears serious about becoming a GM elsewhere.

Redskins Re-Sign LS Nick Sundberg

The Redskins re-signed longtime long snapper Nick Sundberg, the team announced, putting him in position to play into the next decade with the franchise. It’s a four-year deal running through 2020, Mike Jones of the Washington Post tweets. This marks Washington’s first re-signing of the offseason.

Serving as the Redskins’ primary long snapper since being acquired in 2010, Sundberg has played in 91 regular-season games with Washington. Sundberg’s previous deal paid him a career-high $1MM in base salary in 2016 and averaged $1MM annually. Considering Dolphins long snapper John Denney leads this anonymous group with with a $1.15MM-AAV contract, Sundberg’s next pact figures to be similar in value to his previous accord.

The 29-year-old specialist played in each of Washington’s 16 games in both 2014 and ’15 but missed two contests due to injury this season, inducing the Redskins to sign Rick Lovato as a free agent. Sundberg, though, returned to action soon after.

 

 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Colts Request Interviews With Trent Kirchner, Scott Fitterer, George Paton

The Colts are invading the 49ers’ turf after establishing a GM search party nearly three weeks later. The team has requested interviews with three candidates on the 49ers’ initial list, including one that’s believed to be a finalist for the San Francisco job.

Indianapolis has requested interviews with Vikings assistant GM George Paton and the Seahawks’ co-directors of player personnel — Trent Kirchner and Scott Fitterer — according to USA Today’s Tom Pelissero (Twitter links).

This makes four known candidates for Indianapolis’ newly available GM job, with internal candidate Jimmy Raye III believed to be holding an early lead. However, the Colts are planning to interview four or five candidates, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets, expecting some of these summits to occur in Mobile, Ala., at the Senior Bowl. Rapoport expects plenty of overlap in the two teams’ GM searches.

Paton remains in the running for the 49ers’ job after advancing through the first round of interviews. He joins Cardinals exec Terry McDonough as those considered to be finalists for the Bay Area vacancy. Kirchner bowed out of the 49ers’ GM race shortly after Tom Cable withdrew from the head coaching search, while Fitterer did not advance to the finalist stage, joining Raye in that regard. Fitterer dropped out of the running for an Eagles executive position last year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Redskins Promote Matt Cavanaugh To OC

Matt Cavanaugh will receive another chance to run an NFL offense after the Redskins made him their new offensive coordinator on Monday. He will rise from the quarterbacks coach position he occupied the past two seasons.

This continues Washington’s promote-from-within strategy regarding its coordinators, with outside linebackers coach Greg Manusky being elevated to DC after a lengthy search. Cavanaugh’s ascent didn’t come after an extensive pursuit like Manusky’s did, though. Ten different candidates were mentioned as being in the running for Washington’s DC, with several interviewing. No outside candidates surfaced in the running for the Redskins’ OC job, and Cavanaugh wasn’t linked to any other OC jobs.

The former Ravens and Bears’ OC has not served in this capacity since 2004. Cavanaugh, 60, will succeed 30-year-old Sean McVay as the top offensive assistant under Jay Gruden, who is still expected to call plays in Washington next season.
will fill Cavanaugh’s spot as QBs coach.

Cavanaugh has presided over Kirk Cousins‘ rise from backup to near-5,000-yard passer. This followed a stint as the QBs instructor for the Jets and Bears. The veteran assistant is mostly known for his work in Baltimore from 1999-2004. Although it resulted in Cavanaugh receiving a Super Bowl ring for the 2000 Ravens’ work, his offenses lagged well behind the dominant defenses of that era, eventually leading to his dismissal after five years under Brian Billick.

However, a close relationship with both Cousins and backup Colt McCoy will work in Cavanaugh’s favor

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49ers Prepared To Restart GM Search

The 49ers’ GM search enters its fourth week, and the team’s finalist contingent is unclear after two prospective members — since-re-signed Packers execs Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst — dropped out of the running recently. The team is prepared to reopen its search if necessary at this point, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com tweets.

Although a report hinted at this on Sunday, this runs counter to the 49ers’ initial plan of sticking with their list of initial candidates. Vikings assistant GM George Paton and Cardinals VP of player personnel Terry McDonough continue to reside as the de facto finalists after the Jed York-led nine-man search. New candidates could include Falcons director of football operations Nick Polk or Jaguars director of player personnel Chris Polian. La Canfora mentions former Browns executive Morocco Brown, who worked with Kyle Shanahan in Cleveland, and Redskins exec Alex Santos as options if the 49ers indeed reopen this search.

In addition to York’s involvement in the search, outside trepidation regarding executive Paraag Marathe‘s influence has served as a factor during this lengthy process as well, La Canfora notes.

La Canfora also passes along that Shanahan would likely receive control over the team’s 53-man roster if he’s hired to become the next head coach as expected, describing the upcoming scenario as the new GM essentially reporting to the coach. This also contradicts a previous San Francisco direction, with word coming out the Atlanta OC was comfortable working alongside a GM and didn’t need control over the roster.

The 49ers are now potentially competing for executives with the Colts, who fired GM Ryan Grigson over the weekend. Indianapolis is eyeing internal candidate Jimmy Raye III, whom the 49ers interviewed but didn’t categorize as a finalist, as an early frontrunner for the job.

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Redskins Hire Jim Tomsula As DL Coach

The Redskins have agreed to hire former 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula as defensive line coach, as Carol Maloney of NBC4 first reported (Twitter link). Jim Tomsula (vertical)

[RELATED: Redskins Promote Greg Manusky To DC] 

Tomsula, of course, posted a disappointing 5-11 record during his one season as San Francisco’s head coach, and was out of the NFL entirely during the 2016 season. However, while Tomsula failed to match his predecessor Jim Harbaugh‘s track record as 49ers head coach, Tomsula had previously been a highly respected defensive line coach, serving in the role for the Niners from 2007-14.

During that time, Tomsula overlapped not only with Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan, but new Washington defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, whom the Redskins recently promoted to DC

The Redskins weren’t the only club to express interest in Tomsula this offseason, as the Saints also interviewed him for their vacant defensive line coach position.

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James Harrison Plans To Return In 2017

James Harrison intends to return for what would be his age-39 season, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. Already the game’s oldest defensive player, the Steelers linebacker concluded his second straight full season after a brief retirement in 2014. A 2017 re-emergence would mark Harrison’s 15th NFL s season.

This comes a year after the enduring linebacker was not ready to commit to returning after last season’s playoff exit. But Harrison said weeks ago, per Dulac, he planned on returning due to how well his body held up late in the regular season when the Steelers deployed him constantly.

Harrison turns 39 in May and does not have a contract with the Steelers, but given the team’s near-constant usage of the ageless pass-rusher down the stretch, it’s likely the sides can work something out if the team feels he can be productive for another year.

He finished with five sacks for the second straight season, this time leading Pittsburgh in that category. Harrison played every snap during the Steelers’ final three regular-season games and was out there on 174 of 198 playoff snaps, making a big impact in the Steelers’ first divisional-round victory in six years by recording a sack and drawing the season’s most notable holding penalty.

The former defensive player of the year joins Lawrence Timmons and Jarvis Jones as UFA Steelers’ backers. The team did not pick up Jones’ fifth-year option last May.

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NFC Notes: Redskins, Eagles, Hart, Lions

Today’s Championship Games weren’t the most competitive affairs, but fans of the Falcons and Patriots will certainly accept the victories and prepare for the Super Bowl. For the Packers and Steelers, however, the offseason begins now.

Let’s take a quick spin around the NFC:

  • Adding more useful players along the defensive line should be the No. 1 offseason priority for the Redskins, opines John Keim of ESPN.com. Chris Baker could certainly be re-signed after he graded out as the league’s 19th-best interior defender, per Pro Football Focus, but Washington may have concerns about Baker’s level of consistency, per Keim. Ziggy Hood, Cullen Jenkins, and Kedric Golston are also headed for free agency, so the Redskins need to add more bodies up front after the team ranked in the bottom-third of the NFL in adjusted line yards allowed. I pointed to the defensive line when detailing Washington’s top three offseason needs, noting that the Redskins could afford to get younger along the front seven.
  • The Eagles are shifting Taylor Hart from defensive line to offensive tackle, according to Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer (Twitter link). Hart had been playing OL while on the scout team, adds Berman, and the Eagles must have liked what he showed. Hart, 25, has bounced between Philadelphia and San Francisco during his short NFL career (following his collegiate coach Chip Kelly). In two seasons in the league, Hart has played in 15 total games, including one start.
  • After finishing dead last in defensive DVOA in 2016, the Lions could target help on the defensive side of the ball in rounds one, two, and three of the draft, writes Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com. Indeed, Detroit GM Bob Quinn said last week that although he values free agency as a way to acquire talent, the Lions will continue to focus on the draft as they build their roster. As Rothstein details, Detroit could use reinforcements at every level of its defense, but adding an elite talent along the defensive line seems like the primary focus.

Colts Tried To Trade For Saints’ Sean Payton?

The Colts expressed interest in acquiring Saints head coach Sean Payton this offseason, and though New Orleans was willing to consider a deal, the two clubs couldn’t agree on the final terms of a trade, reports Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. However, Indianapolis COO Pete Ward, whom La Canfora identifies as the point man in talks, denies the report, per Mike Chappell of FOX59. Ward says an “associate” of Payton contacted the Colts to gauge the club’s interest in the Saints head coach, but Indy quickly conveyed that they did not want to deal for Payton.Sean Payton (vertical)

[RELATED: 2017 Head Coaching Search Tracker]

Indianapolis has since announced one change to its decision-making structure — the firing of general manager Ryan Grigson — but head coach Chuck Pagano is still in place and is likely to remain the Colts’ head coach for the 2017 season. But Indianapolis and owner Jim Irsay are clearly fans of Payton, as the team reportedly targeted Payton during the 2016 offseason, as well. While Payton’s contract demands scuttled talks last year, this season’s negotiations ended because of New Orleans’ compensation requirements, which La Canfora reports were at least one draft choice in the top two rounds.

Had Payton been traded to the Colts, he likely would have brought Saints executive Jeff Ireland along as his general manager, per La Canfora. Ireland offers former GM experience, as he led the Dolphins front office 2008-13. Instead, Indianapolis has named VP of football operations Jimmy Raye III its interim GM, and Raye is the favorite to keep the job for the 2017 campaign. By installing Raye, the Colts are keeping their options open, and could potentially completely clean house — and bring in an all-new front office and coaching staff — for the 2018 season, writes La Canfora.

Payton had garnered interest from other clubs this offseason, and the Rams were perhaps the most serious suitors, as reports indicated that Los Angeles would pursue a trade for Payton. Other potential landing spots for Payton, who prefers a West Coast home, included the Chargers and 49ers. However, Payton, who is signed with New Orleans through 2020, will stay with the Saints for at least one more season.

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Martellus Bennett Likely To Have Offseason Surgery

Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett is playing with a cracked bone and bone chips in his ankle, and will likely undergo surgery once New England’s season concludes, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.Martellus Bennett (vertical)

[RELATED: Patriots Open To Trading Jimmy Garoppolo]

Bennett, 29, hasn’t been fully healthy all season, as shoulder and knee issues — in addition to the aforementioned ankle problem — have hampered him for the majority of the 2016 campaign. The ailments haven’t slowed Bennett’s production, however, as the veteran tight end has stepped up in the absence of Rob Gronkowski, posting 55 receptions 701 yards and seven touchdowns. Given that he’s been playing through injury for most of the year, Bennett figures to suit up if the Patriots win today’s contest and advance to the Super Bowl.

From an individual point of view, there’s always the possibility that any type of surgery and rehab could affect Bennett’s market when he becomes a free agent in March. Having already reportedly turned down a $7MM/year extension offer from New England, Bennett is clearly looking to land a hefty contract on the open market, where he should be the best tight end available. Other free agents at the position include Jack Doyle, Ryan Griffin, and Jared Cook.

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