USC Officially Hires Lincoln Riley

The NFL will have to wait. On Sunday, Lincoln Riley confirmed that he is leaving the University of Oklahoma to become the next head coach of the USC Trojans. 

[RELATED: Oklahoma Eyeing Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury]

Leaving OU was probably the most difficult decision of my life,” said Riley in a statement issued by Oklahoma. “OU is one of the best college football programs in the country, and it has been forever…This was a personal decision solely based on my willingness to go take on a new challenge, and I felt like it was the right opportunity for me and my family to do that.”

Not long ago, many believed that Riley’s next challenge would come in the professional ranks. Multiple NFL clubs have shown interest, including the Eagles earlier this year, before they settled on Nick Sirianni.

Riley has amassed a 55-10 record since taking over for Bob Stoops in 2017. Though the National Championship has eluded the Sooners, Riley’s work with No. 1 overall picks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray made him a hot NFL candidate. Riley’s still just 38 years of age, so he could make the leap sometime in the future. For now, he’s headed to Southern California while Stoops resumes his old job in an interim capacity.

In related news, Oklahoma has interest in Kliff Kingsbury, but it’s hard to imagine him leaving the first-place Cardinals.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR Originals: 11/21/21 – 11/28/21

In case you missed it, here’s a look back at some of our recent originals:

This Date In Transactions History: Cowboys’ Darren McFadden Retires From NFL

Four years ago today, Darren McFadden announced his retirement from the NFL. He was still just 30 years old, but McFadden felt that his best days were behind him. "<strong

[RELATED: Cowboys Place Steele On Reserve/COVID-19 List]

Today, I am announcing that I am retiring from the NFL. I have been extremely privileged to play in the league for a long time,” McFadden wrote in a statement. “And now that time for me is done.”

McFadden was limited to just one game and one carry (for negative two yards) in 2017. And, even in the wake of Ezekiel Elliott‘s suspension, he wasn’t healthy enough to take on the workload. Instead, it was Alfred Morris who jumped to the top of the depth chart, with support from RB2 Rod Smith.

This was a familiar refrain for McFadden, who couldn’t stay healthy after being drafted No. 4 overall by the Raiders in 2008. His best Oakland season came in 2010 when he ran for 1,157 yards plus 507 yards receiving. Unfortunately, out of seven seasons with the Raiders, he was only able to turn in one 16-game slate.

McFadden went on to have a late career re-emergence with Dallas, eclipsing 1,000 yards in 2015. Then, he lost most of 2016 and basically all of ’17 to injury.

The ex-Razorback’s blend of size and speed (6’1″; 4.33-second 40-yard-dash at the combine) never translated into superstardom, but he did manage a ten-year run — more than most get in the NFL. He also left the game with a pair of 1,000-yard seasons to his credit and nearly $50MM in lifetime NFL earnings.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Oklahoma Eyeing Cardinals’ Kliff Kingsbury

University of Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley has agreed to become the next head coach of the USC Trojans, according to sources who spoke with Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports. In turn, the Sooners’ own search is underway, and they’re targeting Cardinals HC Kliff Kingsbury (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com). 

Kingsbury still has one full year remaining on his deal and it’s not clear if he’d consider a return to the college ranks. Given his recent success, it’d be nothing short of shocking. At 9-2, the Cardinals are bonafide contenders for the first time in a long time.

Kingsbury made his name at Texas Tech, even though his teams went just 35-40 during his time there. In an era where new bowls continue to spawn, the Red Raiders only qualified for bowl games in three of those six seasons. There was also a noticeable drop from the final Patrick Mahomes season (fifth in scoring) to the post-Mahomes teams — 23rd in points in 2017, 100th in 2018 — for the Red Raiders’ offense.

Despite the hiccups, Kingsbury’s quarterback-whispering skills scored him the Cardinals’ job, ahead of several big-name candidates with pro experience. Now, in Year 3, there’s no questioning that the Cardinals made the right pick. Even with Kyler Murray sidelined and Colt McCoy under center, Kingsbury’s Cardinals have managed to go 2-1 in their last three games.

The Cardinals will look to pad their NFC lead next Sunday when they face the Bears in Chicago.

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Seahawks’ Rashaad Penny To Miss Time

More bad news for Rashaad Penny. Thanks to his latest hamstring flare-up, the Seahawks running back will be held out of tomorrow night’s game against Washington (Twitter link via Adam Jude of the Seattle Times). Beyond that, head coach Pete Carroll says that the injury could result in him reverting to IR, which would rule him out for the rest of the year.

Penny’s hammy and calf issues have limited him to just four games this year. All in all, he has just 17 carries for 43 yards and one score on the year. He also sat out the majority of the 2020 campaign while recovering from a torn ACL.

On top of that, Travis Homer has been ruled out for this week with a calf injury. The Seahawks — already without Chris Carson thanks to a season-ending neck injury, are down to just Alex Collins, DeeJay Dallas, and newcomer B.J. Emmons. Practice squader Josh Johnson could be elevated for additional support, but the Seahawks may need to consider other options in the long-term.

For Penny, it’s yet another setback in what was shaping up to be a promising career. Through his first two seasons in the NFL, Penny notched 947 all-purpose yards and six touchdowns. And, in 2019, he managed a 5.7 yards per carry average, albeit in a limited sample size of 65 totes.

The Seahawks have already declined Penny’s fifth-year option, so he’s on course for free agency in the spring.

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Saints CB Marshon Lattimore Pleads Guilty To Misdemeanor

Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore has cleared up the legal matter that was hanging over his head. Lattimore, who was arrested in March and charged with possessing a loaded handgun that was believed to be stolen (a fourth-degree felony), recently pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of failing to promptly inform officers that he was carrying a concealed handgun, as Mike Triplett of ESPN.com writes. The felony count was dropped as part of the plea deal.

Triplett points out that Lattimore has a permit to carry a concealed weapon. The 25-year-old DB was a passenger in a car that was pulled over for multiple traffic violations, and he did not tell the officers that he had the gun until they asked. Lattimore’s attorney, Marcus Sidoti, said his client was unaware that the gun was stolen.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy says the matter is still being reviewed by the league office. But now that the criminal case has been resolved, one would think that a decision as to whether Lattimore will face any sort of punishment under the NFL’s personal conduct policy will come fairly quickly.

The Saints were clearly not too concerned about this incident, as they handed Lattimore a record-setting contract extension in September. Pro Football Focus has not been particularly high on the Ohio State product since his rookie campaign, and that trend has continued this year. PFF’s metrics give him a 63.6 overall grade, good for 54th out of 118 qualified players. Still, Lattimore is viewed in a different light by New Orleans brass, and as the club’s CB1, he is often matched up against an opponent’s top receiver.

He chipped a bone in his thumb in the Saints’ Week 1 win over the Packers, missed Week 2 as a result, and played a few games with a cast. On the season, the three-time Pro Bowler has 42 tackles, one interception, and 11 passes defensed.

Lattimore was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation and was required to pay a $1K fine.

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49ers Plan To Trade Jimmy Garoppolo In Offseason

The future of 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has once again become a talking point, though this time it’s due to his stretch of quality play as opposed to an injury or the presence of rookie passer Trey Lance. Over his last four games, three of which have resulted in wins, Garoppolo has posted QB ratings of 100.6, 100.6, 141.7, and 126.3, throwing for six TDs against just one interception.

He has helped the Niners crawl back into the NFC playoff race, and he has missed just one full game this year due to injury. With Lance struggling in his one start this year, many have wondered whether San Francisco might consider keeping Garoppolo for 2022, the final year of his current contract.

Earlier this week, head coach Kyle Shanahan sort of left the door open for a Garoppolo return next season, though he was adamant that Lance is still the team’s long-term play at QB. And as Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported this morning, the 49ers — barring a Super Bowl run — will seek to trade Garoppolo this offseason, thereby clearing the path for Lance (video link). That is, of course, in line with what we have heard since Lance was drafted.

So Garoppolo’s recent run is not only keeping the team in the postseason picture, it is also increasing the return that San Francisco will realize in an offseason trade. The 30-year-old passer does have a no-trade clause, and his performance makes it more likely that a team he wants to play for will be involved in the bidding for him, which makes it a win-win proposition for him and the 49ers. Matt Barrows of The Athletic, who also believes the 49ers’ preferred course of action is to trade Garoppolo, says that such a deal will likely include some sort of extension or reworked contract with the acquiring club.

If Garoppolo should start to struggle or get hurt again, the Niners could still release him and save $25.6MM against the cap, but they would obviously prefer to swing a trade and net draft pick compensation. Garoppolo will battle former Shanahan pupil and would-be 49er Kirk Cousins in this afternoon’s key matchup with the surging Vikings.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cowboys Place OT Terence Steele On Reserve/COVID-19 List

The Cowboys are dealing with a bit of a COVID problem. Per Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News, the club has placed right tackle Terence Steele on the reserve/COVID-19 list after a positive test. As Watkins’ colleague, Michael Gehlken, tweets, Dallas’ O-line coach Joe Philbin, O-line assistant Jeff Blasko, offensive assistant Scott Tolzien, and strength and conditioning coaches Harold Nash, Jr., Cedric Smith, and Kendall Smith are also on the list following positive tests.

Neither Steele nor the staffers (with the possible exception of Cedric Smith) will be available for the Cowboys’ game against the Saints on Thursday. La’el Collins will get the start at RT in Steele’s absence.

Steele, a 2020 UDFA, served as Collins’ primary replacement last season, which Collins missed due to hip surgery. This year, Collins was hit with a five-game PED suspension, and starting left tackle Tyron Smith has missed time with an ankle injury. So Steele has played both LT and RT in 2021, and Pro Football Focus’ metrics paint him as the 53rd-best offensive tackle out of 81 qualifiers.

To combat further spread of the virus, the Cowboys will be working virtually through Monday and will have daily testing through Tuesday. The good news is that WR Amari Cooper, who has missed Dallas’ last two games due to a positive COVID test of his own, should be back in action for the Saints game, as Watkins writes.

The Cowboy’s other top wideout, CeeDee Lamb, who missed the club’s Thanksgiving loss to the Raiders due to a concussion, is also expected to clear protocols and suit up against New Orleans (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com).

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Raiders Have Not Begun HC Search

Generally speaking, one of the benefits of parting ways with a head coach in the middle of the season is that it gives a club a head start on the search for its next HC. The Raiders, though, do not plan on capitalizing on that opportunity. Las Vegas is currently being run by interim head coach Rich Bisaccia after Jon Gruden‘s resignation in October, but Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports hears that team owner Mark Davis has not started the search for Gruden’s permanent replacement and may not do so until after the season.

It has been something of a difficult year for Davis. The Raiders got out to a 5-2 start, but the Gruden resignation — circumstances surrounding which infuriated Davis — and the departures of 2020 first-rounders Henry Ruggs and Damon Arnette cast a pall over the organization. Still, Davis has been pleased with how his club has responded to the adversity, and after a big win over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving snapped a three-game losing streak and put the Raiders back into the AFC playoff picture, he is not keen to focus on anything other than wins and losses at the moment.

One source told La Canfora that Davis, “isn’t ready to go there yet. He’s not ready to launch a coaching search. That’s not where he is.”

Davis can probably afford to be patient here. The Las Vegas coaching gig is a highly desirable one, so even if he waits until the end of the season to begin his HC search in earnest, Davis still has a good chance to land his top choice, whoever that happens to be. Indeed, La Canfora reports that interested candidates have proactively reached out to the organization, only to be rebuffed.

In addition to making a call on the next head coach, Davis will also need to decide GM Mike Mayock‘s fate. The most recent news on the matter indicated that Mayock — who reported to Gruden in the club’s previous, unorthodox power structure — has a legitimate chance to retain his job, though it’s fair to wonder whether a top-tier head coach will want to partner with a holdover general manager.

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Latest On Eagles QB Jalen Hurts

Eagles QB Jalen Hurts‘ recent run of quality play could have major ramifications for Philadelphia’s future. Aside from the obvious fact that getting the quarterback position settled is the most important agenda item for any NFL club, confidence in Hurts as the long-term solution under center opens a lot of other doors for the franchise, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com observes.

Although there are a number of high-profile passers that could be available via trade this offseason — Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, and Russell Wilson, for instance — the Eagles would not have to empty their cache of draft picks to acquire such a player if Hurts really is the answer. And considering the club has at least two 2022 first-round selections and is in line to recoup the Colts’ 2022 first-rounder as part of this year’s Carson Wentz trade, it would certainly be preferable to use those choices on cost-controlled young talent at other areas of need (like safety, where Bo Wulf of The Athletic believes the Eagles could make a significant splash this offseason).

Plus, this year’s crop of collegiate quarterbacks is not considered an especially strong one. Although some college signal-callers have played their way into first-round consideration, none of them have obvious franchise potential, and arguably none of them have the upside of Hurts. So Philadelphia will be happy to let other clubs take fliers on that group of players while it forges ahead with a QB that has shown marked improvement as the season has gone on.

Since Week 8, Hurts is the only player in the league with three or more rushing touchdowns and passing touchdowns. He is also averaging 5.4 yards per carry during that timeframe, good for seventh-best in the NFL (regardless of position). His running ability is part of what makes him such an intriguing player, so while his 90.4 quarterback rating on the season positions him closer to the bottom of the league than the top, Pro Football Focus’ advanced metrics — which consider throwing and rushing prowess — consider him a top-10 QB, ahead of players like Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson.

So if Hurts’ arm continues to improve — he has thrown just one pick since Week 6 — there is reason to believe that he is, as owner Jeffrey Lurie hoped, the right QB to build around.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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