AFC Notes: Browns, Titans, Texans

Once thought to be the Browns‘ top choice for their latest GM vacancy, George Paton backed out of the race. However, a deal may not have been imminent. The Browns had yet to make Paton an offer, according to Albert Breer of SI.com. Paton’s reasons for backing out of the Cleveland search are not totally clear, but Breer confirms an issue with Jimmy Haslam‘s organizational hierarchy was one of them. Most of the Browns’ GM candidates had an issue with Haslam’s setup — in which the GM, Kevin Stefanski and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta report directly to the owner — and Paton was not an exception, Breer adds. With the Browns since bringing Andrew Berry back to Cleveland as the NFL’s youngest GM (at 32), Haslam has now worked with six GMs or front office heads since buying the team in 2012. While Breer notes Paton was seriously considering taking the job after the first interview went well, the frequently hesitant Vikings exec will stay in his assistant GM post in Minnesota.

Here is the latest from the AFC:

  • Although the Browns are set up on an analytics front, their scouting experience in the front office is less certain. John Dorsey hired both assistant GM Eliot Wolf and VP of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith, but each longtime exec worked with Berry when he was still with the team in 2018. Highsmith’s contract runs through the 2021 draft, and Wolf’s goes through the ’22 draft, Breer adds.
  • An intra-AFC South coaching move occurred Tuesday. The Titans poached Texans defensive backs coach Anthony Midget, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle tweets. Midget, who’d been with Houston throughout Bill O’Brien‘s six-season tenure, received the head coach-GM’s permission to interview with Tennessee, per Paul Kuharsky of Paul Kuharsky.com (Twitter link). He will hold the same job with the Titans next season, replacing Kerry Coombs.
  • The Texans will replace Midget in-house, promoting assistant secondary coach D’Anton Lynn to the top DBs role, Wilson adds. Lynn, 30, is the son of Chargers HC Anthony Lynn and has been with the Texans since 2018.
  • Texans backup center Greg Mancz underwent ankle surgery, according to Wilson. A five-year veteran and 28-game starter in his time with the Texans, Mancz underwent an arthroscopic procedure and is expected to be ready for Texans OTAs. The former UDFA originally injured the ankle during the preseason.

Bears To Sign CFL CB Tre Roberson

A Canadian Football League cornerback who has been on the NFL radar for several weeks, Tre Roberson made his decision. He agreed to a deal with the Bears, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets.

Roberson, who is viewed as this year’s best CFL-to-NFL prospect, participated in a few workouts and drew the attention of at least 10 teams during this process. He will join the Bears, however, and for a higher rate than the usual CFL imports receive.

The 27-year-old defender will sign for what is believed to be the highest rate for a CFL import since the Dolphins added Cameron Wake in 2009, Schefter adds. Wake received a four-year deal worth nearly $5MM, with close to $1MM guaranteed, 11 years ago. While Roberson will not exactly make high-end cornerback money on this Bears deal, the investment is notable nonetheless.

This is not Roberson’s first NFL venture, though. He spent the 2016 and ’17 offseasons with the Vikings and went to camp with Minnesota each year. He did not make the team either summer but did spend extensive time on Minnesota’s practice squad.

A 2016 UDFA out of Illinois State, Roberson resurfaced on the NFL radar after two seasons in Canada. He played two seasons with the Calgary Stampeders, helping the franchise win the Grey Cup during his time up north. He intercepted seven passes and notched two return touchdowns during the Stampeders’ 2019 season.

The Bears have starters Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara signed long-term. They added slot man Buster Skrine last year and drafted Kevin Toliver in the sixth round last year. Based on the guarantee, Roberson will be a great bet to be part of this group next season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On CBA, 17-Game Season

This week will provide a telling sign as to how close a new collective bargaining agreement is to being finalized, with NFLPA reps meeting Thursday in Miami. But a key revelation emerged recently on the prospect of a 17-game season.

While the addition of an extra game is not yet finalized, it is generally assumed that major change will be included in the next CBA. However, the 2020 season will remain at 16 games, Albert Breer of SI.com reports, adding that “significant progress” has occurred toward the finalization of a new CBA. No deal is imminent, but the NFLPA has members of its voting board on standby — a good sign of the progress made in recent weeks. The talks are unfolding under the premise a 17-game schedule will be agreed upon, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk adds.

We heard earlier this month a new CBA could mean a delayed move to 17 games, but even with that being stalled until the 2021 season may not work for players. Little support exists from the current labor force for an extra game. The owners certainly anticipated this, having been willing for months to provide certain concessions to entice the players to adjust the schedule length for the first time since 1978.

The owners have upped their revenue-split offer, but Breer adds that the players seek a split of at least 48%. The owners’ latest proposal pushed the split close to that threshold.

When I talk to the guys, I don’t think many people want to do it,” said Calais Campbell, the Jaguars’ union rep (via Jenna Laine and Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com). “Really, you talk to guys and I don’t think anybody wants to do it. It’s going to be very, very tough. I know the ownership’s really hard on it.

“We’re definitely talking, trying to figure out what we need to do, how we can make this thing work. It’s going to be a process, but 17 [games], that’s very tough.”

One player’s opinion may matter more than others’, with Russell Okung running for NFLPA president. The election to replace Eric Winston, who is in his final weeks in this role, is set for March. Okung is against the 17-game schedule. A few powerful owners want the agreement completed now, per Breer. The prospect of restarting negotiations with a new NFLPA president appears to be igniting the owners. But it remains to be seen what more they will offer the players to agree to a new deal soon.

A 17-game schedule is expected to feature two byes and a neutral-site 17th game. It is not known how the league plans to organize the new schedule or whether the extra game will be against a conference or non-conference opponent. But some owners expressed confidence recently that the 17th game will happen.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

LeSean McCoy Aiming To Return Next Season

The Chiefs have at times used LeSean McCoy as their top running back this season, but at other junctures, the decorated back has barely played for the AFC champions. McCoy has played just one playoff snap.

However, the former Eagles and Bills Pro Bowler wants to return for what would be a 12th season in 2020.

Nah, I’m not ready to retire yet,” McCoy said, via NFL.com. “I still can play. So, I’m not going to retire yet, but that day is coming.”

Shortly after his Bills release, McCoy signed a one-year, $3MM deal with the Chiefs. A four-team derby that also included the Patriots, Chargers and Eagles ended with the six-time Pro Bowler choosing to reunite with Andy Reid in Kansas City.

Initially, McCoy carved out an immediate role. He saw 10-plus touches in seven of the Chiefs’ first eight games but wound up a healthy scratch and battled an illness at times over the past two-plus months. Shady has not seen a carry since Week 15, and the Chiefs have used Damien Williams almost exclusively as their postseason back.

Still, the interest that came McCoy’s way late in free agency may be indicative of at least one more contract coming in March. McCoy averaged 4.6 yards per carry this season, after a career-worst 3.2 YPC figure with a limited Bills team in 2018. After logging 200-plus carries in each season from 2010-17, McCoy has not topped 170 in each of the past two years. He will enter free agency with 2,950 career touches (third-most among active backs) and will be 32 by Week 1 of the 2020 season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Antonio Brown Still Planning NFL Return

Antonio Brown‘s latest off-field incident has not discouraged him from wanting to continue his NFL career. Despite his arrest on multiple charges from a Hollywood, Fla., incident last week adding to a historic downfall, the former All-Pro said he “has a shot” to return to the league.

A Florida judge freed Brown from the ankle monitor and house arrest Tuesday. Brown, however, faces charges of burglary with battery, burglary of an unoccupied conveyance and criminal mischief after an incident in which a moving-truck driver accused Brown and trainer Glen Holt of battery. This followed the multiple accusations of sexual misconduct, and the league has now folded the most recent incident into its months-long Brown investigation.

I put myself in a bad predicament,’’ Brown said, via USA Today’s Josh Peter. “I’m out of it now, man. Unfortunate situation, but we don’t make excuses and we’re going to make the best of it. … I’m planning to come back to the NFL.”

While Brown’s troubles are far from over, there certainly remains a chance he returns to the league. Players with considerably worse off-field pasts have come back to NFL action, and Brown has submitted a Hall of Fame resume. Though, the career freefall that began with his Steelers departure has been one of the most shocking in recent NFL annals. All of the events between then and now have certainly made the four-time first-team All-Pro wideout a major reliability risk. A suspension looms as a near-certainty.

Brown played in one game this past season — the Patriots’ Week 2 Dolphins tilt — and has not played consecutive games since Weeks 15 and 16 of the 2018 campaign. He worked out for the Saints in late December, but even that produced drama. Drew Rosenhaus severed ties with Brown after a video revealed the former Rosenhaus client’s profanity-laced tirade directed at the mother of one of his children and police. Prior to this legal issue, teams were holding off on considering a Brown signing until the league investigation ends. Brown will turn 32 in July.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots’ Dante Scarnecchia To Retire

The Patriots will lose their acclaimed offensive line coach to another retirement. After Dante Scarnecchia‘s return from his previous retirement coincided with three straight Patriots Super Bowls, the 72-year-old assistant will step away again, he confirmed Tuesday (via ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss). Former Patriots tight end Christian Fauria, now with WEEI, was the first to report of Scarnecchia’s intention to retire again.

Scarnecchia initially retired after the 2013 season but was coaxed back to the sidelines in 2016. The Patriots perennially field one of the league’s top offensive lines, and their longtime staffer’s presence was certainly no coincidence in that trend. Despite center David Andrews missing the entire season and left tackle Isaiah Wynn out for much of it, Scarnecchia’s latest group rated in the top 10 in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards and pass-protection metrics.

While Scarnecchia’s second stint in New England helped the franchise secure its fifth and sixth championships, he spent 34 years on the Pats’ staff. Scarnecchia was a Patriots assistant for 10 of their 11 Super Bowl appearances and 48 of the team’s 59 playoff games, beginning his run with the team in 1982. After a brief stay as the Colts’ O-line coach (from 1989-90, following former Pats coach Ron Meyer to Indianapolis), Scarnecchia spent most of the 1990s as the Pats’ special teams coordinator. He began serving as their offensive line coach in 1999 and held that job for the better part of the next 20 years.

It was a privilege to coach with Dante for so long,” Bill Belichick said. “I knew that long before his initial retirement and throughout a second act of continued excellence. Dante is among the very best assistant coaches ever.”

Belichick is one of six Patriots HCs with whom Scarnecchia has worked. The Pats replaced Scarnecchia with Dave DeGuglielmo during his 2014-15 sabbatical and will again have to fill some big shoes in filling their 2020 staff.

This also marks the latest veteran coach to leave New England. The Pats lost longtime defensive assistants Matt Patricia and Brian Flores over the previous two offseasons and lost multiple offensive assistants when Flores took the Dolphins’ HC job. While Tom Brady‘s status looms as the top Patriots uncertainty heading into next season, Belichick will need to make a key hire to replace one of the few organizational fixtures whose New England arrival predates Brady’s.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

FOX Interested In Panthers’ Greg Olsen

In 2018, Greg Olsen flirted with retirement and the possibility of moving to a job in broadcasting. This year, the Panthers tight end will have similar options to consider. If Olsen wants a career in TV, FOX Sports executives will offer him a position as an analyst, Richard Deitsch of The Athletic tweets.

Two years ago, Olsen had ESPN and FOX hot on his trail. Ultimately, he turned down opportunities to do color commentary on Monday Night Football (that job went to Jason Witten, before he returned to the field) and a gig with FOX’s Thursday Night Football. Instead, he signed an extension with the Panthers – that deal is set to take him through the 2020 season.

This time around, Olsen may consider a third option – moving on to a new team. Olsen says he doesn’t want to be part of a rebuilding effort and, clearly, that’s what will take place in Carolina.

I just think sometimes the writing’s on the wall,” Olsen said in December. “There hasn’t been anything officially. But I wanted to make sure if that was my last time that I made sure I told the people that I needed to how much they meant on my career.

Olsen is set to count for a $11.8MM cap figure, but the Panthers can save $8.1MM by releasing him against just $3.7MM in dead money. He may also hold some trade value, though it’s unlikely that he’d net the Panthers a large return as he nears his 35th birthday in March.

Olsen, a first round pick in the 2007 draft, finished the season with 52 catches for 597 yards and two touchdowns in 14 games. His last 16-game season came in 2016, when he tallied 1,000 receiving yards for the third straight year.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans To Keep Romeo Crennel On Staff

Romeo Crennel won’t serve as the Texans’ defensive coordinator in 2020, but he’ll remain on staff in a “key role,” Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter) hears. Crennel’s title is not yet known, but he’ll be there to support first-time DC Anthony Weaver, who was recently promoted from defensive line coach.

[RELATED: Texans Promote Anthony Weaver To DC]

Previously, Crennel was said to be mulling retirement. But, after 38 years in coaching, the 72-year-old can’t seem to quit football. Crennel’s resume is too long to list here, but his notable stops include runs as the head coach of the Browns and Chiefs, plus DC turns with the Browns, Pats, Chiefs, and Texans.

Crennel came under fire from fans after a so-so showing in the regular season and a No. 19 ranking in defensive DVOA. Then, the Texans’ fate was sealed in the divisional round as they allowed the Chiefs to battle back from a 24-point gap in the second quarter. It was a rough exit, but in Crennel’s defense, the Texans were just the latest victim of Patrick Mahomes & Co.

Meanwhile, the Texans will forge ahead with head coach Bill O’Brien taking on GM responsibilities. O’Brien was, more or less, acting as the team’s GM in 2019, but Tuesday’s announcement from Cal McNair made it all official. O’Brien’s appointment to GM also means that Nick Caserio, the Patriots exec long chased by the Texans, won’t be coming to Houston.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Texans Name Bill O’Brien As GM

The Texans have given head coach Bill O’Brien the title of general manager, per a club announcement. O’Brien has effectively been in charge of the roster for a while, but Tuesday’s announcement makes it official. Meanwhile, they’ve promoted executive vice president of team development Jack Easterby to executive vice president of football operations.

Preparations are underway for the 2020 season and I thought it was important to update titles, roles and responsibilities for Bill O’Brien and Jack Easterby so they more accurately reflect the way we have been operating for the past eight months,” said owner Cal McNair. “I was encouraged by the progress that our team made on the field this year which was due in part to our new structure, operating approach and the leaders within our football operations group. I am proud that we provided our fans with many thrilling victories at home, including a playoff win, and we delivered another double-digit win season. Our fans deserve that, but now it is time for the organization to get back to work toward our pursuit of a world championship for the city of Houston.”

Last summer, the Texans fired GM Brian Gaine after just one year at the helm. Since then, they’ve taken a GM-by-committee approach, with O’Brien leading the charge and Easterby holding significant influence over the roster. Execs Matt Bazirgan, James Liipfert, and Chris Olsen were also instrumental in the revamped configuration.

With O’Brien as the de facto GM, the Texans went 10-6, captured the AFC South title, and reached the divisional round for the fourth time in franchise history.

NFL News & NFL Rumors