A steady run of Texas Longhorns have declared for the 2018 draft, and linebacker Malik Jefferson will be the latest.
The junior linebacker will forgo his senior season in Austin to place his name in the 2018 prospect pool, he announced via The Players’ Tribune (Twitter link). Jefferson is viewed as a late-first-round-level talent by some mock drafts at this stage of the process.
A former five-star recruit, Jefferson earned Big 12 co-defensive player of the year acclaim after a season that included 110 tackles and four sacks. Although 2017 represented by far Jefferson’s best season, he finished his three-year career with 13.5 sacks and 26 tackles for loss.
Jon Gruden has not officially committed to leaving the broadcast booth yet, but should he do so and rejoin the Raiders, he may have a name in mind for offensive coordinator.
Gruden is interested in bringing Jets OC John Morton with him to Oakland for the OC role, Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News reports. The Jets would not stand in the way if that were to happen, Mehta adds. Morton broke into coaching during Gruden’s Raiders regime.
Mehta notes the 48-year-old Morton considers Gruden, 54, a mentor. Morton has one year of offensive coordinator experience, signing on with the Jets earlier this year after being a wide receivers coach with the 49ers and Saints since 2011. Morton also resided on the Packers’ practice squad briefly during Gruden’s time as a Green Bay assistant in the early 1990s.
This season, Morton helped coax quality play from Josh McCown. The 38-year-old passer set a new career high with 18 touchdown passes. He completed 67 percent of his passes despite working with a young offense, this coming after McCown connected on just 55 percent of his throws with the 2016 Browns. Robby Anderson also enjoyed a breakout year under Morton, recording 941 receiving yards, with Jermaine Kearse also having his most productive season as a pro.
Although the Jets entered Week 17 with the league’s 24th-ranked offense, they were not supposed to be as productive as they were, and Morton may have a believer in Gruden.
The Raiders‘ firing of Jack Del Rioless than a year after signing him to an extension would have come as a shock at this season’s outset, when the team was picked by most to win the AFC West. But now that Jon Gruden‘s name is in the mix, the franchise is operating like it has a real shot to lure him back to Oakland.
In firing Del Rio, the Raiders are confident they can bring Gruden back to Oakland, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. The Raiders doing this looks indeed to be for a Gruden landing, with Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News hearing (Twitter link) the Gruden buzz is legitimate. This comes shortly after Gruden’s name was connected with the Buccaneers. But the Bucs kept Dirk Koetter after a less successful tenure compared to Del Rio’s Oakland run. The Gruden noise appears louder regarding the Raiders. He was the most recent coach to receive a four-year opportunity coaching the Silver and Black, doing so from 1998-2001 prior to being traded to the Bucs in early 2002.
Here’s the latest from the coaching carousel.
Marvin Lewis‘ Bengals played a spoiler in Week 17, knocking the Ravens out of the playoffs. The coach’s future in Cincinnati remains murky, however, as his contract expires. Lewis made an interesting comment postgame regarding his status. When asked if he would accept Mike Brown‘s offer to remain the Bengals’ HC in 2018, Lewis replied (via Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com), “It’s a little more complicated than that.” A report emerged last week about Lewis stepping down from his 15-year post. He has yet to confirm that.
Vance Joseph‘s Broncos tenure is also up in the air. However, the rookie head coach said he “absolutely” expects to be the team’s coach in 2018 and said (via Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post, on Twitter) he has not been informed of a decision yet. Joseph said he will meet with John Elway tonight or Monday. The Broncos have never fired a coach after one season. However, this is only the second time in 27 seasons they’ve won five or fewer games. Mike Klis of 9News reports (on Twitter) Elway will not make the decision tonight, planning to sleep on it. Klis adds that it shouldn’t be a surprise if Joseph is given a second season.
Bruce Arians met with Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill on Sunday morning, Laura Okmin of Fox Sports reports, adding a decision on whether or not he will step down could come by New Year’s Day (Twitter link). Arians has said himself his decision could come as soon as Monday, or as late as February, although Adam Schefter of ESPN.com notes he’s likely to leave.
Mock drafts’ consensus top running back will indeed be making himself eligible for the 2018 draft. Saquon Barkley will skip his final season at Penn State and pursue an NFL career next season.
The junior ball-carrier announced his decision on Instagram. He is expected to be selected near the top of the first round and has been rated as the draft’s top talent by some experts.
Barkley posted back-to-back seasons with 20-plus touchdowns. After totaling 1,898 yards from scrimmage and 22 touchdowns as a sophomore, the most dynamic Nittany Lion rampaged for 1,903 and 21 this season. He will be a coveted target for teams picking near the top of the draft. Barkley received fewer carries this season (217 after taking 272 handoffs in 2016) but caught a career-high 54 passes, showcasing a vital component of his skill set.
Coming off a bowl performance featuring 137 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Barkley will be in demand from teams seeking a three-down back. The Browns, Giants and Colts will hold the top three picks, with a second Cleveland pick stationed at No. 4 because of the Texans’ 2017 struggles. Each team would probably upgrade their backfield situation with Barkley, whose draft position could well depend on what Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold decide to do.
Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was informed after the team’s Week 17 loss to the Chargers that he would not be retained, the coach told reporters including the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Michael Gehlken (Twitter link).
In his postgame press conference, the coach told reporters he was notified “two minutes ago” by Raiders owner Mark Davis of his decision. Del Rio said, “He told me he loved me and appreciated all that I did to get this program going to right direction, but that he felt he needed a change.” Del Rio expressed gratitude for the opportunity Davis gave him when he hired him in 2015.
Following a breakout 2016 campaign that saw the Raiders go 12-4, Oakland entered 2017 as potential Super Bowl contenders with a loaded offense and a solid defense. Things didn’t go according to plan and the Raiders scuffled to a 6-10 mark.
The firing comes on the heels of the Raiders’ reported pursuit of the team’s former head coach Jon Gruden. Reports claim the Raiders could offer the ESPN analyst an ownership stake in the team to take over as head coach.
In his three seasons as head coach, Del Rio amassed a 25-23 mark and advanced to the postseason in 2016 for the first time since the team lost the Super Bowl in 2002.
With young stars Derek Carr and Amari Cooper on offense and a game-changing talent on defense in Khalil Mack, the Raiders head-coaching job is arguably the top gig that will become available this offseason.
With an 18-10 win over the Redskins in the season finale, the Giants brought to a close one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, finishing 3-13. Quarterback Eli Manning isn’t ready to jump ship, however, and declared his hope to return to the team in 2018, ESPN’s Jordan Ranaan writes.
The two-time Super Bowl winner and longtime Giants quarterback said he plans to sit down with recently hired general manager Dave Gettleman in the coming days to discuss Manning’s future with the team.
“I don’t want to go play football anywhere else,” Manning said. “This is where I want to play, this is my family, the New York Giants. So, hopefully they feel the same way and we can make that work out.”
Manning, who has two years left on his deal, was benched earlier in the season by head coach Ben McAdoo for the Giants to get a look at Geno Smith. McAdoo was fired soon after and Manning returned to his spot under center.
The Giants will pick at No. 2 in the 2018 NFL Draft and could have UCLA’s Josh Rosen or USC’s Sam Darnold in their crosshairs to replace Manning as the quarterback of the future. Even if the team does select a signal-caller, New York could keep Manning on as a mentor until the young quarterback is ready to take over.
Whatever route the Giants go, the team’s quarterback in 2018 will be in a favorable situation. With plenty of pieces on defense and a game-breaking talent at wide receiver in Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants have the necessary talent to make a drastic turnaround in 2018.
Following Detroit’s 35-11 win over division rival Green Bay, head coach Jim Caldwell addressed reporters and said he does not know what the future holds, Justin Rogers of the Detroit News reports (Twitter link).
Despite posting a 9-7 record, the Lions were eliminated from the playoffs following a loss to Cincinnati in Week 16. By missing the postseason, sources told NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport that the team was expected to let go of Caldwell at season’s end.
Hot-seat rumors have swirled around Caldwell for months and an answer to those rumors is likely to come in the next few days. In September, Detroit gave Caldwell a contract extension but the terms of the deal were not revealed until December, when NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reported the deal ran through 2018.
“I don’t make any excuses,” Caldwell said. “It’s just not the way I live my life. So we go out, we do what we do and we’ll make an assessment from there. The real assessment is wins and losses. That’s the key. I think there are things that I’ve done, but I’m not done yet. So you know, we’ll see.”
Here’s more from the Lions:
Guard T.J. Lang is not expected to require surgery for a foot injury that has lingered throughout the season, ESPN’s Michael Rothstein reports (Twitter link). Lang missed the team’s Week 16 loss to Cincinnati, which eliminated the Lions from the playoffs. The right guard is signed through the 2019 season.
Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah is “pretty confident” he can return to his 2015 form, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press writes. Over the last two season, Birkett notes the pass-rushing lineman has spent 25 of a possible 32 weeks on the injury report. Ansah told Birkett, “I’ve been dealing with a lot all year long … There is good days and bad days regardless of how healthy you are.” After recording 14.5 sacks during his breakout 2015 campaign, Ansah has managed just 11 in the two seasons since.
Following Houston’s 22-13 loss vs. the Colts, Texans general manager and executive vice president Rick Smith announced he was taking an extended leave of absence to care for his wife, Tiffany, who was diagnosed with breast cancer, ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Sarah Barshop reported.
In a statement, Smith said, “I am eternally grateful to the McNair family for their unwavering support during this trying time. This was an extremely difficult decision for me to make as I love this organization and every member of this team both on and off the field. I remain committed to our quest to bring a championship to the city of Houston, yet my family needs me now and they are my priority.”
Smith has served as Houston’s general manager since 2006, when owner Bob McNair hired him as the youngest GM in the league at the age of 36. During his tenure with the team, Smith has constructed a team that claimed four AFC South division titles in a six-year span (2011-16). In his second season on the job, Smith helped the Texans to their first non-losing season in franchise history. He has only finished below .500 four times in 12 seasons.
Following Indianapolis’ 22-13 win over the Texans in the season finale, head coach Chuck Pagano was let go as the team’s head coach, WISH-TV in Indianapolis’ Anthony Calhoun reports (Twitter link).
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported late Saturday night that the team was expected to part ways with the coach following Sunday’s performance. The team followed through, firing the head coach less than hour after the final whistle.
Pagano, who was two years into a four-year deal with the team, served as the Colts head coach since 2012 and amassed a record of 53-43 that included three postseason appearances. During his tenure, Pagano ushered the team into a new era after the release of Peyton Manning. With the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, the team tabbed Andrew Luck and pulled off three consecutive 11-5 campaigns with the Stanford product under center. In 2014, the Colts advanced to the AFC Championship game but were defeated by the eventual Super Bowl-champion Patriots, 45-7.
In 2015, Luck missed nine of 16 games and the team skidded to an 8-8 mark. Following another .500 campaign in 2016, Indianapolis parted ways with GM Ryan Grigson but decided to keep Pagano on for another season.
The writing was on the wall early for Pagano in 2017. Luck never got on the field following a lingering shoulder injury and the team posted its worst record since 2011.
Team owner and CEO Jim Irsay issued a statement following the firing, saying:
“Chuck Pagano provided Colts fans with many exciting wins and memories as head coach of the Colts. Throughout his tenure in Indianapolis, he impacted the lives of the players he coached, those who he worked with in the organization and Colts fans across the globe. Chuck’s first season was one of the more inspirational stories in NFL history as he courageously battled and overcame leukemia. As a result, his CHUCKSTRONG Foundation has raised millions for cancer research. We are thankful for Chuck’s contributions to our franchise and community and we wish him, Tina and the entire Pagano family nothing but the best moving forward.”
After the Browns fell to the Steelers, 28-24, to become the second 0-16 team in NFL history, team owner Jimmy Haslam told reporters, including Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com (Twitter link), that head coach Hue Jackson will return as head coach in 2018.
Haslam also said he doesn’t believe “Jackson hasn’t lost his magic,” and that he is working well with new general manager John Dorsey.
Since taking over at the beginning of the 2016 season, Jackson has managed just a 1-31 record as head coach. Following the loss in the season finale, Jackson told reporters the team wasn’t as far away from competing as many people think they are and that the difference will be the addition of Dorsey. The former Chiefs GM took over after the team parted ways with Sashi Brown earlier in the season.
Shortly after the hiring of Dorsey, questions began to swirl about Jackson’s future in Cleveland, with many thinking the new GM wanted to hire his own coach. Haslam, however, has stated all along he planned to bring back Jackson, and Dorsey later dispelled the rumors. There were even rumors of the Browns trading Jackson to the Bengals, the team in which he served as offensive coordinator before moving to Cleveland.
Jackson has stood firm in his commitment to Cleveland. He was reportedly not interested in the Bengals job after Marvin Lewis announced he was leaving. He told reporters on Sunday, “I don’t think anyone else could’ve done this job for the past two years.” He also added, “We’re going to get this organization to winning as soon as possible.”
With the loss on Sunday, the Browns will hold the No. 1 pick, which they will presumably use to take one of UCLA’s Josh Rosen or USC’s Sam Darnold, should they declare for the draft. Thanks to a draft-day deal in 2016, the team will also holds Houston’s first-round selection, the No. 4 overall pick. Also loaded with tons of caps space, the Browns are set up to make strides in Jackson’s third season.