Extra Points: Cowboys, Bears, Ravens, Chargers

The Cowboys made a big splash today, firing longtime offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Speculation immediately began swirling about who Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett would tap to be his replacement, and Jon Machota of Dallas News is out with a list of potential replacements. Machota writes that Cowboys tight ends coach Doug Nussmeier is “the favorite” for the job, and notes that Garrett has spoken highly of the former Alabama and Florida offensive coordinator. He also lists quarterbacks coach Kellen Moore and receivers coach Sanjay Lal as candidates.

If the Cowboys opt not to promote someone from within, they could be interested in Georgia offensive coordinator James Coley and Saints tight ends coach Dan Campbell, who played for the Cowboys from 2003 to 2005. Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com tweeted that “it’s hard to imagine that Jerry Jones fired Scott Linehan without knowing in advance precisely who the replacement would be,” so it’s possible we hear very soon who it’ll be.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • The Bears lost defensive backs coach Ed Donatell, who followed Vic Fangio to Denver to become the Broncos’ new defensive coordinator, and now they have a replacement. The team is hiring Deshea Townsend to be their new defensive backs coach, the team announced in a tweet. Townsend spent last year as an assistant DB’s coach with the Giants.
  • Tyrod Taylor could be a candidate to be Lamar Jackson‘s backup with the Ravens next year, according to Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com. Baltimore will be moving on from Joe Flacco this spring, and Taylor has plenty of connections to the team, who drafted him in the sixth round back in 2011 and gave him his start in the league. Taylor, a free agent this spring after his one year with the Browns ended in him being benched for Baker Mayfield, played for current Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman in Buffalo. Hensley also notes that the team has reached out to Robert Griffin III, who served as the third string quarterback this year behind Jackson and Flacco, about potentially returning in 2019. Both are mobile quarterbacks and could provide continuity in the offense if Jackson were to go down.
  • The Chargers struggled to stop the run all season long and especially in their playoff loss to the Patriots, and Chargers GM Tom Telesco said at his end of year press conference that linebacker will be a priority for them this offseason, according to Sam Fortier of The Athletic. The Chargers suffered a rash of injuries to their linebacking corp this season, with starters Kyzir White, Denzel Perryman, and Jatavis Brown all suffering serious injuries. The Chargers pick 28th in this April’s draft, and very well could target a linebacker with their first pick.

 

Cardinals Interview Hue Jackson For OC

The Cardinals added another name to their offensive coordinator search today, interviewing former Browns coach Hue Jackson, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link).

After being fired from the Browns mid-season, Jackson took a job on Marvin Lewis’ staff in Cincinnati, where he had previously served as offensive coordinator. Jackson received an interview for the Bengals’ head coaching gig after they fired Lewis, but the job ended up going to Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor. If Jackson does get the job, it would reunite him with Vance Joseph, who recently signed on to be Arizona’s defensive coordinator. Jackson and Joseph worked together for two years in Cincinnati, and together they’d provide a lot of head coaching experience for new Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury to lean on.

Jackson received a ton of criticism toward the end of his Browns tenure, but was a highly respected offensive mind and coordinator before that. All the losing the Browns did is what most remember Jackson for now, but he was a hot head coaching candidate before he took the job in Cleveland. He was rumored to be a candidate to be the Vikings’ offensive coordinator, but they opted to stay in-house with Kevin Stefanski instead.

It was reported last week that Steve Sarkisian was close to joining Kingsbury’s staff as offensive coordinator, but that fell apart when Sark decided to return to Alabama instead. Arizona has been taking their time, and interviewed former Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements a couple of days ago. They’ve also been linked to former Giants coach Ben McAdoo and former Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. Judging by the candidates they’ve been interviewing and the earlier hire of Joseph, it seems like the Cardinals are intent on surrounding Kingsbury with a ton of high level NFL experience as he prepares for his first ever coaching gig in the pros. The Cardinals play the Browns next year, so if Jackson gets hired it would be another opportunity for some great Baker Mayfield/Jackson viral moments.

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Latest On Packers’ Coaching Staff

The Packers made several moves today to help fill out new coach Matt LaFleur’s inaugural staff. First the team hired 49ers assistant offensive line coach Adam Stenavich to be their offensive line coach, sources told Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports (Twitter link). We heard a couple of days ago Green Bay was granted permission to interview him, and now they’ve made the move. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News tweeted several hours before Maiocco broke the news that the Jets also had interest in Stenavich to be their offensive line coach. Stenavich was on the Packers’ practice squad in 2006 during his playing days as an offensive tackle.

The team is also hiring Kirk Olivadotti to be their linebackers coach, tweets Jim Owczarski of the Milwuakee Journal Sentinel. Up until now Olivadotti had served in the same position with the Redskins. LaFleur served on Washington’s staff as quarterbacks coach while Olivadotti was there, so the hire makes sense. LaFleur will also be retaining Jason Simmons, the secondary coach who has been on the staff in Green Bay since 2011, tweets Rob Demovsky of ESPN.

In a separate tweet Demovsky notes that the Packers completed their interview with Luke Getsy. A source told Demovsky that Getsy interviewed for both the quarterbacks and receivers coach openings, but left town without signing a contract. Jason Wilde of ESPN followed up with a tweet of his own, saying that quarterback Aaron Rodgers “thinks very highly of Getsy and has a lot of respect for him.”

Getsy served on the Packers’ staff under Mike McCarthy from 2014-17 before leaving to take a job as Mississippi State’s offensive coordinator last year. The Packers have been making a bunch of moves to bring guys in from different organizations, and are now close to filling out LaFleur’s staff.

 

 

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Extra Points: Roethlisberger, Prescott, Foles

We heard recently that the Steelers were hoping to extend Ben Roethlisberger soon, and now we have confirmation of that. Steelers owner Art Rooney recently confirmed the team intended to get a new deal done for Big Ben soon, per Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. “That’s certainly something that is on the agenda for this offseason,” Rooney said. Florio then dove into what a potential new contract for Roethlisberger, who has one year left on his current deal, would look like. Florio thinks Roethlisberger and his reps will demand “at least $28 million per year”, and points out that his current deal only paid him an average of $21.85 MM per year, far below market value. He also writes that Roethlisberger could choose to just play it year to year and make the Steelers franchise tag him for the next couple of seasons if they’re unwilling to meet his demands.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Speaking of quarterback extensions, Dak Prescott will need one soon as well. 2019 will be the last year of his rookie contract, and what kind of extension the Cowboys offer him will be one of the more interesting contract developments this offseason. Former NFL agent and current CBS Sports analyst Joel Corry took a look at all of Dallas’ options, and came to the conclusion that inking Prescott to a new deal “may be a lot easier said than done.” He writes that the Cowboys may be reluctant to offer Prescott top of the quarterback market money because it would preclude them from extending other young players, but that Prescott’s agent Todd France has “a reputation for driving a hard bargain in negotiations”, and will be unlikely to back down. It’ll be fascinating to see how this one plays out, and whether Prescott ends up getting top quarterback money or has to settle for something in the lower $20MM’s.
  • Another quarterback to monitor this offseason is Nick Foles. It’s been made clear that Foles won’t be back in Philadelphia next season, but it remains to be seen whether or not he’ll be traded or able to pick his own destination in free agency. Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer broke down all the scenarios for this spring, and included some telling quotes from Foles. The Eagles can exercise an option to keep Foles under contract for next year, which Foles could then void if he pays the team back $2MM, “essentially buying free agency” as Berman points out. Foles recently said “having the option to be a free agent is extremely important” indicating he would much prefer to choose his own landing spot rather than be dealt somewhere. But even if he does pay the voiding fee, the Eagles could still franchise tag him and then attempt to trade him. We should know a lot more by the start of free agency.
  • In case you missed it, the Chargers plan on extending Philip Rivers this offseason.

Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith

Devin Smith is back in the league. The former Jets second round pick signed a reserve/futures deal with the Cowboys today, according to his agent Jason Bernstein (Twitter link).

The 37th overall pick of the 2015 draft, Smith spent the entire 2018 season out of football after the Jets waived him back in July. Smith was always high on talent coming out of Ohio State, but was plagued by injuries once he reached the pros. He played in ten games his rookie season but managed just four in 2016 before missing the entire 2017 season with his second ACL tear.

In his Jets career, he caught just ten passes for 135 yards and one touchdown. The Cowboys have been doing whatever they can to upgrade their receiving corp ever since releasing Dez Bryant, first by drafting Michael Gallup, then by signing Allen Hurns and trading for Amari Cooper, and now by taking a flyer on Smith. Smith was always known as a speed demon, and drew comparisons to DeSean Jackson coming out of college.

Still only 26, it’s still possible he could develop into a legit deep threat for a team one day if he can stay healthy and prove he still has the burst he used to have. With the reserve/futures deal, he’ll be added to Dallas’ offseason 90-man roster and be with the team for OTA’s and training camp with the chance to compete for a roster spot.

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Chargers Open To Antonio Gates Return

Last year, the Chargers were ready to move on from Antonio Gates and turn the keys over to rising star Hunter Henry. However, when a torn ACL sidelined Henry, the Bolts reverted to Gates with a new deal in September. Will he come back for yet another season? 

My heart says, yeah, he’ll be back next year,” Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco said, via Sam Fortier of The Athletic. “But you put your GM hat on, and you look at what’s the role, where are resources are with the cap. We’ll come to that conclusion a lot quicker than we did last year.”

It’s hard to see Gates demanding much in the way of salary given his decline in usage and performance. Last year, even without Henry in his way, Gates finished out with just 28 catches for 333 yards and two touchdowns. Those are respectable numbers for your average tight end, but they were some of the lowest totals of Gates’ career.

Last year, Gates carried a $2.5MM charge against the Chargers’ cap. A similar deal could probably be struck, though the Bolts may want to keep the guaranteed base salary to a minimum in order to preserve their flexibility in the first couple of waves of free agency.

For his part, Gates wants to return. He’s also confident in his abilities, despite his advanced age.

The teams we played think I can still can play if they’re still doubling me,” Gates said.

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Saints ‘ Ben Watson To Miss NFC Title Game

Saints tight end Ben Watson won’t play this week against the Rams, a source tells ESPN.com’s Katherine Terrell (on Twitter). Watson missed two practices due to appendicitis and the painful malady will prevent him from taking the field.

Watson has been able to avoid surgery so far, but anyone who has dealt with appendicitis knows that it’s debilitating, at least in the short term. But, should the Saints reach the Super Bowl, Watson will have a couple of weeks to rest up and get ready for the big game.

The 38-year-old has been incredibly durable throughout his 15-year career. Watson appeared in at least 12 games in 13 of his 15 seasons, and he had at least 20 receptions in 12 of those campaigns. The 2004 first-round pick spent the first six years of his career with the Patriots, including New England’s Super Bowl run in 2004 (although he won on the IR during their playoff run). Watson then spent three seasons in Cleveland before finding a home in New Orleans; the tight end has spent four of his past six seasons with the Saints (he also had a two-year stint with the Ravens).

Watson has been particularly productive during his tenure with New Orleans, including a 2015 campaign where he compiled a career-high 825 receiving yards. Watson re-joined the Saints on a one-year, $2MM deal back in March, and he appeared in all 16 games for the team in 2018, compiling 35 receptions for 400 yards and two scores. The first score was extra special as it was Drew Brees‘ 500th career touchdown pass.

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Cowboys Fire OC Scott Linehan

Days after receiving a vote of confidence from head coach Jason GarrettScott Linehan is out of a job. The offensive coordinator has been dismissed, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). Soon after Rapoport’s report, the Cowboys made it official with a formal announcement.

According to a statement from Garrett released by the team, this was a “mutual decision” between the Cowboys and the Linehan:

This was not an easy decision because of how highly we regard Scott Linehan as a football coach and as a person. He and I had some really positive, substantive and open discussions which took place in the latter part of this week, and we ultimately agreed that it would be in the best interest of all of the parties involved if we were to make a change at this (offensive coordinator) position,” Garrett said. “This was very much a mutual decision, and there was a great deal of common ground and shared understanding between both of us during our meetings. Scott has had an incredibly positive impact on our football team. He has been instrumental in the development and success of a significant number of our veteran and younger players. He is an outstanding football coach, a great friend and we wish him and his family nothing but the absolute best moving forward.”

On Monday, Garrett told a local radio station that he did not foresee any changes to the coaching staff. Hours later, in a separate interview, he said that nothing was firm either way. Later, Jerry Jones did an interview of his own in which he made it clear that Garrett was not the one making the decision.

There were factors out of Linehan’s control – including the absence of offensive line anchor Travis Frederick – but there’s no way to sugarcoat it: the Cowboys offense underperformed in 2018. The midseason addition of wide receiver Amari Cooper opened things up, but the Cowboys ultimately did not have confidence in Linehan’s ability to steer the ship.

The Cowboys averaged 343.8 yards per game in 2018, good for just 22nd in the NFL. They also finished tenth in rushing yards, which fell below expectations given the presence of Ezekiel Elliott and the team’s reputation for having one of the NFL’s best offensive lines.

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NFL Announces Early Entries For Draft

This year, 103 underclassmen have been granted eligibility for the 2019 NFL Draft, the league announced. It’s a near record-setter – last year, 106 players declared early entry for the 2018 draft.

Click below for the full rundown, in alphabetical order:

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DeSean Jackson Non-Committal On Bucs

DeSean Jackson isn’t saying that he wants to play for new Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians. But, he isn’t closing the door on that possibility, either. 

That’s what I got an agent for, bro. I don’t know,” Jackson told TMZ.”I just go play, bro. That’s all I worry about.”

His open-ended bro-filled answer while walking through the Los Angeles airport doesn’t tell us a ton, but it is a softened stance from where DJax stood just a few weeks ago. Jackson reportedly swore off the possibility of returning to Tampa and that came after an October kerfuffle in which he requested a pre-deadline trade.

Sometimes, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the Bucs’ new regime could aid in a reconciliation. Arians loves the deep ball in his offense and Jackson could conceivably thrive under the team’s new direction.

Jackson is under contract for one more season at a $10MM cap number, but that sum is completely non-guaranteed. At the moment, the Bucs have roughly $16MM in cap space, so they’ll may ask Jackson to take a pay cut in order to stay on board.

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