Month: February 2024

Seahawks Hire Mike Macdonald As HC

Scheduling two interviews with Mike Macdonald in a two-day period, the Seahawks effectively displayed their interest in the two-year Ravens defensive coordinator. That proved to be telling for the franchise’s future.

The Seahawks are hiring Macdonald as their next head coach, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports. The team will go from employing the league’s oldest active HC, in Pete Carroll, to the youngest. Macdonald is 36. Wednesday’s second meeting became themed around a hire, per NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, who notes Macdonald has since agreed to the deal. After a report Tuesday pointed to Macdonald and Giants OC Mike Kafka being firmly in the mix, the Seahawks will go with a defense-based candidate.

Baltimore’s AFC championship game loss to Kansas City removed any restrictions Macdonald would have had regarding interview scheduling, but Rapoport adds the Seahawks were willing to wait on him if the Ravens held seed and qualified for Super Bowl LVIII. That did not prove necessary, and Macdonald can get to work on assembling a staff. As Macdonald-Seahawks conversations continue today, coordinator candidates are undoubtedly coming up. With the team in that phase, the Commanders are now the only club with a coaching vacancy remaining.

Being a year younger than Sean McVay and Jerod Mayo, Macdonald is 36 years younger than Carroll, who became only the fourth coach to lead an NFL team at age 72. Carroll had announced intentions to stay for a 15th season. Even as Carroll pushed to keep his job in the days following the season, the Seahawks moved on. GM John Schneider, who now wields full personnel control for the first time, will go with a candidate who was on many teams’ lists this year. Dan Quinn emerged as the first name in the mix to succeed Carroll, but the Dallas DC — and Seattle’s DC during both 2010s Super Bowl seasons — is down to the Commanders or staying with the Cowboys.

Macdonald will sign a six-year contract with the NFC West franchise, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com reports. While this is not a rebuilding situation, the Seahawks will still show a long-term commitment to their young HC. Four- and five-year deals are a bit more common in the NFL, though some six-year pacts have emerged in the recent past. Kyle Shanahan signed one as the 49ers were rebuilding. So did Dan Campbell in 2021. The Panthers just gave Dave Canales a six-year deal. Carroll did not leave the Seahawks in need of an overhaul, however, making this term length interesting.

The Seahawks’ investment comes after Macdonald displayed his value during his second Ravens stint. Baltimore’s defense ranked first this season, which came after a third-place finish in scoring defense in 2022. The Ravens ranked in the top 10 in yardage in each of Macdonald’s two seasons in charge. Baltimore’s defense has been one of the NFL’s most reliable units during the 21st century; Macdonald continued this run, one that helped the team secure the AFC’s No. 1 seed for the second time in franchise history. Don Martindale‘s DC successor interviewed for the Commanders, Chargers, Falcons, Panthers and Titans’ HC jobs.

Macdonald managed to coax a monster season from contract-year defensive lineman Justin Madubuike, who smashed career highs with 13 sacks and 33 QB hits. The Ravens also received steady production from edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, despite both veterans’ late arrivals. Clowney signed with Baltimore in August, while Van Noy did not arrive until late September. The two vets combined for 18.5 sacks this season, helping the Ravens lead the league with 60. Baltimore will not lose both coordinators, however, with OC Todd Monken not in contention for the Washington job.

Carroll’s final years brought a defensive regression in Seattle. The Seahawks ranked 30th in total defense this season and 26th in 2022; two-year DC Clint Hurtt left to become the Eagles’ defensive line coach. The Carroll-led defenses have trended down since the Legion of Boom-driven apex produced back-to-back Super Bowl berths. While the Seahawks became the first team since the 1950s Browns to lead the NFL in scoring defense in four straight seasons (2012-15), they have not ranked in the top 10 in this area since 2016.

A Ravens position coach before spending 2021 as Jim Harbaugh‘s DC at Michigan, Macdonald reviving the Seahawks’ defense would go a long way toward helping the team become a legitimate contender again. Although Geno Smith did not match his 2022 work, the journeyman passer did again display starter-caliber chops after re-signing last March. The Seahawks also have veteran wideouts Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf under contract, along with two young running backs and two 2022 draftees at tackle (Charles Cross, Abraham Lucas). Inconsistency plagued the Seahawks on offense this past season, but the team has Smith on a low-end — for a veteran QB — contract; that three-year, $75MM deal runs through the 2025 season.

Macdonald becomes the Seahawks’ third consecutive hire with a defensive background. Carroll replaced Jim Mora Jr. in 2010, guiding the franchise to its zenith. The Seahawks had plateaued during Carroll’s later years. As the Legion of Boom splintered, the team became a Russell Wilson-dependent operation. The second half of Wilson’s Seattle tenure featured steady growth as a passer and will go a long way toward his Hall of Fame case, but the Seahawks struggled to build a reliable roster around the since-traded QB. They appeared to fare better on this front after re-signing Smith last year, giving Dre’Mont Jones a $17MM-AAV deal and trading for rental piece Leonard Williams. The team also used a No. 5 overall pick — obtained in the Wilson swap — on Devon Witherspoon. The Illinois alum’s Pro Bowl season points to him being a key piece under Macdonald going forward.

After back-to-back 9-8 seasons, the Seahawks will now bet on their young HC investment elevating this operation. It will be interesting to see if the team makes an investment in a young quarterback this offseason or continues to build its roster around Smith. With Seattle not blocking its assistants from exploring other jobs, three-year OC Shane Waldron signed on to be Chicago’s play-caller. Macdonald will be tasked with bringing in a replacement soon.

Latest On Aaron Rodgers’ Jets Influence; Robert Saleh Considering Reducing Nathaniel Hackett’s Role?

The Jets were ready for a different story in 2023. After year after year of question marks at the quarterback position, New York finally made the move for that franchise passer for which fans had been clamoring for so long. Yet in that trade for the then-39-year-old Aaron Rodgers, the Jets were getting much more than an upgrade to their quarterbacks room.

A lot of the influence that Rodgers demonstrated over the Jets last year came before he ever arrived. In order to “woo” Rodgers during the trade standoff, owner Woody Johnson approved the hiring of Nathaniel Hackett as offensive coordinator, per Zack Rosenblatt and Dianna Russini of The Athletic. Hackett had a history with Rodgers, serving as his offensive coordinator for three years in Green Bay, two of which resulted in an MVP award for the four-time All-Pro. Unfortunately, though, Hackett was coming off of a disastrous campaign as head coach of the Broncos, during which he became just the fifth head coach since 1970 not to finish their first season as head coach.

Even before that, the Jets stayed busy signing many of Rodgers’ former teammates like wide receivers Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb, quarterback Tim Boyle, and offensive tackle Billy Turner. Not to mention that the veteran quarterback also pushed the team to add offensive tackle David Bakhtiari and tight end Marcedes Lewis to the roster, as well. Lots of this undue influence on personnel stemmed from his past in Green Bay, where he felt general manager Brian Gutekunst shut him out, especially after the drafting of his eventual replacement Jordan Love. In an effort to make Rodgers feel more in the loop, the team gave him a direct line of communication to general manager Joe Douglas.

Rodgers was even reportedly consulted on the lack of success from his offensive coordinator following Rodgers’ season-ending Achilles injury. Rosenblatt and Russini report that the team reached out to several veteran quarterbacks after Rodgers’ injury, including Chad Henne, Carson Wentz, and Colt McCoy. Of course, former Jet Joe Flacco was available, but the Jets staff reportedly didn’t view Flacco as an upgrade over backup quarterback Zach Wilson.

When the team ultimately chose to move forward with Wilson (and eventually Boyle and Trevor Siemian), many were critical of Hackett’s ability to adjust to the team’s new situation without Rodgers, with coaches and players describing the play-caller as “lacking in attention to detail.” The article reports that head coach Robert Saleh has explored the idea of adding new offensive staff and reducing Hackett’s role, an exploration that seems to involve Rodgers’ input.

Unlike Hackett, Saleh reportedly jumped into action after Rodgers’ injury, diving into a study of how the league’s best coaches of the past had dealt with similar situations. He found that, with the exception of Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, all of the best current names in NFL coaching circles experienced losing records in seasons without their top passing option.

It was also Saleh who informed Wilson after his initial benching that he would be inactive for the remaining stretch of the season. When the head coach was forced to reverse course among injuries and other factors, it was Rodgers that Saleh turned to in order to convince Wilson to play again. That plan proved ill-conceived, though, as Wilson had soured on his former idol. Wilson reportedly expected to have a direct line to Rodgers as he undertook the duties of the starting quarterback. Despite reports that Rodgers had taken Wilson under his wing, due to the veteran’s obsessive pursuit for the world’s quickest return from a torn Achilles tendon, Wilson barely heard from him.

Aside from all of the internal influence, Rodgers’ activities outside of the building have caused ripples, as well. Even setting aside the headline-grabbing comments about late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, Rodgers’ famous paranoia was causing issues inside the Jets’ facility as he told Pat McAfee that there had “been a bunch of…leaks,” sending Saleh and staff into a witch hunt.

Regardless of it all, the plan remains largely the same for 2024. Saleh and Douglas, after public endorsements from Rodgers, will remain in place. Depending on how conversations between Saleh and Rodgers play out, the offensive coaching staff may look slightly different, but Hackett is likely to remain in place, as well. Rodgers, likely to be fully healthy by the beginning of the 2024 season, will return as the starting quarterback wearing several other hats beneath his helmet, his influence ever-present.

Buccaneers STC Keith Armstrong To Retire

The Buccaneers will be in search of another new coordinator this offseason after losing their special teams coordinator of the last five years to retirement. Keith Armstrong, 60 years old, informed the team of his intentions to retire today, according to Mike Garafolo of NFL Network.

Armstrong began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Temple, in 1987. Two years later, Armstrong had coached all three sides of the ball after working a year at Miami (FL) as an assistant defensive backs and special teams coach and a year at Akron as a wide receivers coach. He ended his college coaching tenure with a three-year stint as the secondary coach at Oklahoma State followed by a year at Notre Dame as the linebackers and special teams coach.

Armstrong debuted in the NFL with the Falcons as a safeties coach in 1994, eventually being promoted to secondary coach in 1996. Despite his focus on the defensive side of the ball up to this point in his career, Armstrong officially made the switch to special teams with his move to Chicago. After four years as special teams coach with the Bears, Armstrong spent seven years in the same position in Miami followed by 11 years with the Falcons.

In 2019, Armstrong left Atlanta to reunite with two former connections in Todd Bowles and Bruce Arians. It was a long-awaited reunion after Armstrong and Bowles had played as teammates in college at Temple under Arians in the mid-1980s. Armstrong’s move to Tampa Bay marked his first official coordinator designation.

Bowles is now in the position of having to replace two coordinators. After watching offensive coordinator Dave Canales depart for the head coaching job in Carolina, Bowles will now be tasked with replacing Armstrong, as well.

Latest On Raiders’ OC Vacancy, Team’s GM Interview Process

As the coaching carousel continues to spin, a number of coordinator vacancies remain open. The Raiders have yet to pair head coach Antonio Pierce with his next OC, but a number of candidates have been connected to the position.

Former Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury has interviewed for three openings during the 2024 cycle, including those of the Bears and Eagles. Chicago and Philadelphia have elected to go in a different direction, but Vegas has not landed on a top candidate yet. Kingsbury interviewed with the Raiders, and Mike Garafolo of NFL Network notes he is expected to land a coordinator gig in Vegas or elsewhere this year (video link).

Kingsbury spent the 2023 season with USC after his Cardinals tenure ended in underwhelming fashion the year prior. He is still well-regarded with respect to his offensive acumen, Garafolo notes, making him a strong candidate to return to an NFL staff. With Pierce’s background from his playing days and coaching career coming on defense, the Raiders’ next OC will be a key figure on the team’s new staff. Kingsbury is not the only high-profile coach linked to Vegas, however.

Former Eagles and 49ers head coach Chip Kelly is believed to be “targeting” the Raiders’ OC position, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes. The 60-year-old’s last NFL stint came in 2016, and he has been at the helm with UCLA ever since. A recent report cited Kelly as a candidate to return to the pro ranks this year, but he has yet to conduct any known interviews. Like Kingsbury, Kelly would offer signficant play-calling experience on a Raiders team looking to improve on offense and find stability at the quarterback position moving forward.

Of course, Pierce will be a figure to watch closely as his staff takes shape. After a well-received interim HC stint to close out the 2023 campaign, he was given the full-time position earlier this month. The Raiders were also in the midst of their general manager search when that decision was made. Further details on the process of choosing ex-Chargers GM Tom Telesco – and Pierce’s involvement in it – have emerged.

The latter sat in on the second round of interviews with each of Vegas’ three GM finalists, owner Mark Davis recently explained. Telesco, interim GM Champ Kelly and Colts assistant general manager Ed Dodds conducted follow-ups with Davis and a select number of other personnel. Pierce was present for each in-person sit-down, even though Telesco’s was the only one which took place after Pierce had officially been hired.

“The initial interviews with the GMs were only them and the group of five or six that we had,” Davis said, via The Athletic’s Vic Tafur (subscription required). “Once we narrowed it down to the three finalists, I wanted to make sure that Antonio was in on those interviews as well. So, he was in all of the second interviews with the three candidates.”

The Pierce-Telesco partnership is now in place, but in addition to the OC position, there are unanswered questions on the team’s coaching staff. One of those is the role Marvin Lewis will take on. The longtime Bengals coach was one of the veteran staffers who assisted Pierce during his interim stretch, and he will stay in the organization moving forward. As Tafur notes, Lewis appears set to work with the coaching staff rather than the front office.

Plenty is yet to be determined in Las Vegas as the hiring cycle continues. The team’s search for an offensive coordinator will be worth watching closely, as will the relationship between Pierce and Telesco as they aim to give the franchise long-term stability following the failed Josh McDaniels-Dave Ziegler endeavor.

Packers Hire Jeff Hafley As DC

Green Bay has landed on a defensive coordinator hire. The Packers are set to bring in Boston College head coach Jeff Hafley as their new DC, ESPN’s Pete Thamel reports.

Hafley took his first NFL coaching gig in 2012 when he became an assistant defensive backs coach with the Buccaneers. He took charge of Tampa’s DBs the following season, later doing the same with the Browns and 49ers. Hafley returned to the college ranks in 2019, serving as Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator. That led him to Boston College’s head coaching role, which he held from 2020-23.

The 44-year-old did not have a known connection to an NFL DC posting since 2019. That includes being off the radar, in terms of known interviews, of the Packers through this year’s search. In a move which came as little surprise, Green Bay elected to fire Joe Barry after the team’s divisional round elimination. A long list of candidates emerged to fill the opening, but the team has gone in a different direction.

The Packers conducted at least three interviews for their Barry replacement, and another was lined up. Other staffers, including sought-after Panthers DC Ejiro Evero, were named as potential Green Bay targets. None of them have landed the position, though, one which will come with serious expectations given the highly-drafted players present on the Packers’ defense and the unit’s shortcomings under Barry.

Green Bay posted finishes of 13th, 17th and 10th in terms of points allowed over the past three seasons. Struggles against the run in particular were present for much of Barry’s tenure, and improvement in that regard will no doubt be a priority for Hafley. The latter led the Eagles to a 22-26 record during his time in charge, earning bowl eligibility for the school three times.

Boston College allowed an average of 28.3 points and just under 384 yards per game in 2023 while generating 1.3 takeaways per contest. Green Bay posted only seven interceptions in 2023, and better production in the secondary would go a long way toward overall improvement on defense moving forward. Hafley’s background working with defensive backs could help in that regard.

As Thamel notes, Hafley and head coach Matt LaFleur are close friends. Their relationship will now continue at the NFL level, with the former becoming the third DC in the latter’s time at the helm in Green Bay. The Packers’ defense will be worth watching closely as Haley makes a long-awaited return to the pro game and takes on his first career NFL coordinator gig.

Panthers Hire Brandt Tilis As EVP Of Football Operations

As expected, Brandt Tilis has landed a position in the Panthers’ new-look front office. The longtime Chiefs exec has officially been hired as Carolina’s executive vice president of football operations, per a team announcement.

Tilis was named as a candidate to join new general manager Dan Morgan when the latter was promoted to his position. Morgan is a rookie general manager with a background on the football side of operations, so a veteran front office staffer experienced in cap management and analytics represented a logical target as his top lieutenant. The most recent update on the situation noted that Tilis had prepared to depart Kansas City’s front office despite the team preparing to play in the Super Bowl.

Tilis spent 14 years with the Chiefs, including three as the team’s VP of football operations. He interviewed with the Panthers for their general manager vacancy earlier this month, but most signs pointed to owner David Tepper elevating Morgan to replace Scott Fitterer. Still, the Panthers-Tilis connection remained strong throughout the hiring cycle, and the long-awaited agreement between the two is now in place.

Tilis will be responsible for, among other things, contract negotiations in his new Panthers position. He held the same duties for much of his Chiefs tenure, playing an integral role in allowing the defending champions to remain amongst the league’s elite teams with Patrick Mahomes‘ mega-contract on the books. Talks with a number of pending free agents – including Pro Bowl edge rusher Brian Burns – will be among the top priorities for Tilis in his first offseason with Carolina.

“It’s great to add Brandt and his experience to our organization,” a statement from Morgan reads. “He comes from a championship-caliber team in Kansas City and will play a lead role in our front office. We are looking forward to getting him here and working together to build this team.”

Jim Harbaugh To Earn $16MM Per Year; Chargers Had Mike Vrabel As Second Choice?

After their round of rookie head coaches failed to produce a consistent winner, the Chargers are giving the keys to Jim Harbaugh. The longtime Michigan HC is expected to have final roster say over new GM Joe Hortiz. As expected, a lucrative contract comes with this job.

A report just before Harbaugh agreed to terms with the Bolts indicated the team would not quite meet his initial asking price, which was believed to be in the $18MM-per-year range — a salary Sean Payton is believed to have secured from the Broncos. But the Chargers will pay their new head coach in the same NFL tax bracket, with Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio indicating Harbaugh secured a $16MM salary. On a five-year deal, Harbaugh has locked in $80MM.

Coaching salaries remain a mysterious topic in the NFL, since they do not have to be disclosed like player contracts do. No salary cap exists for coaching deals, giving the wealthier owners an advantage in terms of wooing top-tier options. The Chargers do not fall into that category and have been regularly labeled as frugal. This perception affected the organization during its most recent search, but the team that serves as the Rams’ tenant at SoFi Stadium cannot be accused of being cheap this time around.

Michigan is believed to have offered Harbaugh a 10-year deal worth $125MM, but language regarding a potential NCAA suspension and how the Wolverines planned to handle their HC’s annual NFL flirtations complicated matters. The 60-year-old coach came into Chargers negotiations with that as leverage, along with the Falcons’ interest. Harbaugh had scheduled a second Falcons meeting, but amid negotiations with the Bolts, the veteran HC tabled that Atlanta trip.

While this coaching salary is not top-of-the-line money, it is in the upper echelon. To illustrate how much the NFL has changed financially, Harbaugh was tied to a $3.25MM base salary when the Ravens traded him to San Diego in 1999.

Harbaugh will now go about his latest attempt to elevate a team, having done so everywhere he has been previously. Given the value a good head coach provides, $16MM is a relative bargain on an uncapped market. Had Harbaugh boarded the plane to follow through with his second Falcons meeting, however, the Chargers may have needed to go to one of their backup plans. The silver medalist in this race is unlikely to land a coaching job this year.

Had Harbaugh not committed to the Chargers during his second interview, ESPN’s Adam Schefter said during a Pat McAfee Show appearance Mike Vrabel was likely positioned as the team’s second choice. Vrabel interviewed with the Chargers, Falcons and Panthers during this cycle. It has been rather surprising to see the well-regarded HC drift off the radar during this cycle, especially considering the trade rumors that followed him during his final weeks with the Titans. With the Commanders not expected to include him in any course change, Vrabel would be forced to take an assistant job or spend the season out of the NFL.

Vrabel, 48, has coached in the NFL since 2014, serving as the Texans’ defensive coordinator after a three-year run as linebackers coach under Bill O’Brien. Despite Houston’s defense not playing particularly well under then-DC Vrabel in 2017, the assistant wowed Tennessee brass in his HC interview and became a successful HC. He guided the Titans to three straight playoff berths and signed an extension early during the 2022 offseason. Clashes with ownership following GM Jon Robinson‘s ouster led Vrabel out of Nashville.

Vrabel has experience coaching at the college level as well, beginning his coaching career with three seasons on Urban Meyer‘s Ohio State staff. It remains to be seen if Vrabel would consider a college gig again, but it appears the six-year Titans HC will not be leading an NFL team in 2024.

Commanders Not Considering Adding Bill Belichick, Mike Vrabel To HC Search

Two Commanders HC candidates dropped out of the race Tuesday. Ben Johnson, the presumed favorite, informed the Commanders and Seahawks he would stay with the Lions. Bobby Slowik, who interviewed with Washington twice, is sticking with the Texans.

This could conceivably prompt the Commanders to expand their search. The Cardinals made this move last year midway through their search. Two big names remain available, in Bill Belichick and Mike Vrabel. The Commanders have not interviewed either candidate, being rumored early during this year’s carousel spin to be steering clear of Belichick. That has not changed, per Fox Sports’ Ralph Vacchiano, who adds no indications have surfaced that Vrabel will be an 11th-hour candidate.

Regarding Belichick, Vacchiano indicates the team is leery about the six-time Super Bowl winner’s age (72 in April) and status working alongside a football ops president (Adam Peters) who has roster control. Belichick operated as the de facto Patriots GM throughout his 24-year tenure, and personnel power was believed to be an issue for the Falcons, the only team to interview the coaching icon during this cycle. Although Belichick is a Maryland native, internal questions as to whether he would want to oversee a rebuild have also emerged.

The Commanders’ reasoning for avoiding Vrabel is less clear, but the six-year Titans HC — who had been mentioned for weeks as a trade asset — looks likely to join his former coach in being shut out this year. Vrabel, 48, is well regarded around the league. But he has not interviewed for either of the two remaining HC jobs. The Seahawks have been connected to being interested in Vrabel, but they are now well into their second interviews. It would appear Seattle has determined to look elsewhere as well.

After Johnson and Slowik dropped out, only one candidate with an offensive background — Eric Bieniemy — remains in the mix for the Washington job. The 2023 Commanders OC is not viewed as a serious HC candidate, according to Vacchiano. After Bieniemy’s failure to land a head coaching job became a lightning-rod NFL topic during his Kansas City run, only Washington interviewed him this time around. The team’s offense struggled down the stretch, finishing with an eight-game losing streak and worse rankings worse than it did during Scott Turner‘s final season calling the shots.

That said, some around the NFL have wondered if the Commanders are still gauging Bieniemy’s fit with the next coach as an OC, Vacchiano adds. It would surprise if Josh Harris were to saddle his next HC hire with the OC Ron Rivera brought in, but Bieniemy does bring considerable experience to the table. Regardless of his shortcomings in HC interviews, the five-year Chiefs OC worked as Andy Reid‘s right-hand man during one of the NFL’s prolific offensive stretches. It would not surprise to see Bieniemy become a candidate to keep his job, but ownership insisting on him staying seems unlikely.

Many in the NFL expected Peters to pursue an offense-oriented coach after seeing how Kyle Shanahan revived the 49ers, Vacchiano adds, noting the team is likely to draft a quarterback at No. 2 overall. As it stands now, a defense-geared coach will be mentoring Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels — should the Bears stay on course and select Caleb Williams atop the draft — in 2024, while Belichick and Vrabel ponder their next moves.

As of Wednesday, no more interviews are scheduled. The Seahawks are interviewing Mike Macdonald for a second time today, while Dan Quinn is also a candidate for the Seattle job. Here is how the Commanders’ search looks: