Aaron Rodgers

NFC Notes: Rodgers, Cardinals, Panthers

After playing behind Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, Cardinals quarterback Brett Hundley is looking forward to providing teammate Kyler Murray with some essential wisdom. However, the 26-year-old made it clear that he’s not just going to hand the starting gig to the first-overall pick.

“The knowledge that I have, I’m able to pass it along to [Murray], especially through this journey of his because the NFL isn’t a sprint. It’s a long distance marathon,” Hundley said (via Jelani Scott of NFL.com). “For me, my goal has always been to start, no matter what position it’s in. I don’t play to be second. So I think that’s my number one goal, to get that starting job, and at the same time, it’s a competition for a reason.”

Hundley’s only extended stint as a starter came in 2017, when he started nine of his 11 appearances for the Packers. That season, Hundley completed 60.8-percent of his passes for 1,836 yards, nine touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. He also added another 270 rushing yards and two scores on 36 carries.

Let’s check out some more notes from around the NFC…

  • With Aaron Rodgers apparently tuning out Mike McCarthy‘s play calls, many pundits wondered how the Packers quarterback would handle a brand-new head coach. Well, Albert Breer of SI.com says the franchise quarterback is working with Matt LaFleur on a compromise. LaFleur’s system is intended to take decision-making off the quarterback’s list of responsibilities, all while allowing the offense to run quickly and more efficiently. The team is planning on using the “double call” method that was made popular by Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan, although they’ll also provide Rodgers with the freedom to adjust from there. As Breer writes, the ideal scenario is “giving Rodgers the option, but not the obligation, to make changes on the fly.”
  • Breer writes that the Panthers had an under-the-radar front office hiring this week when they added Taylor Rajack as their new director of analytics. The 27-year-old previously served on the Eagles’ analytics staff, and Philly has quickly established themselves as one of the NFL leaders in advanced stats. Breer notes that Panthers coach Ron Rivera has previously embraced the use of analytics, while new owner David Tepper made it a priority in his front office.
  • 49ers kicker Robbie Gould isn’t backing off his trade demand, and he provided some insight on the situation earlier today.

North Notes: Packers, Rudolph, Steelers

The freedom Aaron Rodgers may or may not have to change plays at the line of scrimmage has become an issue in Green Bay, and first-year Packers HC Matt LaFleur explained the concern he has with enabling his decorated quarterback to have the kind of pre-snap autonomy he did under Mike McCarthy.

One thing we have to work through is the audible thing,” LaFleur said, via Michael Silver of NFL.com, of his conversations with Rodgers. “We’re running a system I first picked up while working with Kyle (Shanahan) in Houston a decade ago, and we’ve never really had a quarterback who’s had complete freedom to change plays at the line, because that’s not really the way the offense is set up. But, I mean, this is Aaron Rodgers. He’s had a lot of freedom to make those calls, and deservedly so. Now, how do we reconcile that, and get to a place where we put him in the best position to succeed?

LaFleur would prefer Rodgers only have one play he can check to, while the 15th-year passer would like more leeway. The former Rams and Titans OC cited the pre-snap movement he’s bringing to Green Bay as a reason for the potential constraints Rodgers will face.

We move a lot more. There’s a lot more motion. There are a lot more moving parts,” LaFleur said, via Silver. “And so if you just let the quarterback have that freedom to just get to whatever, I’m afraid it would slow our guys down. Now, he is a special talent and he’s got an incredible mind, so as we move forward throughout this process he’s getting more freedom. It’s just, where is that happy medium?

Let’s look at the latest news out of the North divisions:

  • Although Kyle Rudolph received the outcome he wanted — a four-year, $36MM Vikings extension — he acknowledged the prospect of a Patriots trade. But it’s still unclear if the teams engaged in discussions. “Obviously the speculation is going to be there because of their situation at my position and then our team’s cash/cap situation and my salary,” Rudolph said, via SI.com’s Albert Breer. “So there was kind of just a natural, like, ‘Hey, Kyle’s familiar with the offense, he played for a coach (Charlie Weis, at Notre Dame) that was a coordinator there.” After signing Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Ben Watson, then cutting ASJ and nixing the Michael Roberts trade with the Lions, the Patriots still face the prospect of not having a proven tight end during Watson’s suspension.
  • The buzz about Donte Moncrief becoming Ben Roethlisberger‘s No. 2 target continues, with Mark Kaboly of The Athletic (subscription required) calling it a “slam dunk” the former Colts and Jaguars wideout will be the Steelers’ WR2. It still figures to be a collaborative effort replacing one of this generation’s best players, Antonio Brown, but it looks like Moncrief’s offseason has him in position to lead that charge.
  • Artie Burns‘ standing in Pittsburgh is certainly not on the same level, and the Steelers face a decision on the underwhelming first-round cornerback. The team has until the third day of training camp to waive Burns and save $800K, but Kaboly notes that if the fourth-year corner has not yet been cut, the Steelers are probably planning to give him another shot. Regardless, Kaboly expects this to be Burns’ final year in Pittsburgh.

North Rumors: Rodgers, Steelers, Bears

Tasked with adjusting to a new offense for the first time in his tenure as an NFL starter, Aaron Rodgers showed a bit of resistance to Matt LaFleur‘s new attack this week. At least, the Packers‘ future Hall of Fame quarterback does not want to be limited at the line of scrimmage. The first-year head coach’s system does not feature the same kind of pre-snap flexibility Rodgers previously enjoyed.

I don’t think you want me to turn off 11 years. There’s stuff that not many people in the league can do at the line,” Rodgers said during an interview with NFL.com’s Michael Silver (Twitter link). “That’s not a humble brag. That’s just a fact.

LaFleur said earlier this offseason the plan will be for Rodgers to either run the called play or switch to one alternative, and Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel anticipates some pushback on this. A detailed story this offseason examined Rodgers’ checkered history with Mike McCarthy, so the Packers are facing a crucial season — one in which their two-time MVP turn 36 — so getting their passer and head coach on the same page figures to be essential. While LaFleur said this week he does not want to minimize Rodgers’ penchant for off-script brilliance, it does appear the Packers have some sorting out to accomplish.

Here is the latest news out of the North divisions:

  • Although Teryl Austin‘s title with the Steelers is senior defensive assistant/secondary, the former Lions and Bengals DC will have another key game-day responsibility. Austin will be Mike Tomlin‘s unofficial replay-review coach. Austin said, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he will watch every play that generated a replay review from the 2018 season to prepare for his new role. Tomlin has won just two of his past 14 challenges, dating back to the beginning of the 2016 season, Dulac notes, adding the 13th-year coach is 0-for-12 on fourth-down challenges during his career.
  • As for Austin’s role instructing Pittsburgh’s secondary, the Steelers have deviated from a plan that meant for their new hire to coach one position and secondary coach Tom Bradley another. They are sharing responsibilities leading that unit, per Dulac.
  • Antonio Brown‘s exit leaves the Steelers perhaps the biggest void in the NFL, given his production as the team’s top wide receiver for most of this decade, and the Steelers may have to fill the JuJu Smith-Schuster sidekick role as a group. But among the James WashingtonDonte MoncriefDiontae Johnson contingent, Ben Roethlisberger (via Ray Fittipaldo of the Post-Gazette) singled out Moncrief as having the best offseason. Still just 25, Moncrief posted 668 yards for the Jaguars last season.
  • Another North-division surprise factor: large Bears tight end Bradley Sowell. The converted tackle’s switch to tight end appears legitimate, with Jeff Dickerson of ESPN.com called the 6-foot-7, 312-pound veteran a legitimate threat for regular playing time — rather than this being a gimmicky or in-case-of-emergency position change. Sowell played tight end on 30 snaps last season but may be working toward a usage bump.

North Notes: Steelers, Packers, Vikings

Details of Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown‘s January domestic dispute have been released via a police report, as Andy Slater of the 640 The Hurricane tweets. Per the report from the Hollywood, Florida police department, Brown allegedly pushed the mother of his daughter to the ground. The woman was reportedly dropping off Brown’s daughter and requested reimbursement for the child’s recent hair appointment. As she blocked Brown from closing his front door, Brown allegedly used both hands to push her down. No arrest was made following the incident, and Brown’s attorney has refuted any wrongdoing on the part of the star wideout, per Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (Twitter link). The NFL is planning to investigate the episode, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two North divisions:

  • Aaron Rodgers‘ 2020 $19.5MM roster bonus became fully guaranteed today, according to Dan Graziano of ESPN.com (Twitter link), virtually ensuring what we already knew: Rodgers will be the Packers‘ quarterback for at least two seasons. Rodgers, 35, inked a four-year, $134MM extension last August that made him the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback by a wide margin. He’s collecting $33.5MM annually, $3.5MM more per year than Matt Ryan. Rodgers finished in 10th in adjusted net yards per attempt (the passing stat which correlates most with winning) in 2018, but ranked just 20th in ESPN’s Total QBR, a metric based on expected points.
  • The Vikings already moved former tackle Mike Remmers to guard in 2018, and they may end up doing the same with their blindside protector. Minnesota is considering shifting left tackle Riley Reiff to guard, sources tell Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Reiff, 30, has played tackle in all 105 of his NFL appearances, and he’s played it quite well: in 2018, Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 23rd-best tackle in the league. Per Goessling, the Vikings will take an “open approach” to rebuilding their offensive line, meaning they’ll search for new players in free agency and the draft before finalizing their front five configuration.
  • The structure of Everson Griffen‘s 2017 extension could end up making him a viable candidate for release as the Vikings enter the offseason, as Goessling writes in a separate piece. Per the terms of Griffen’s deal, he received nearly $19MM in new guarantees, but that money has already been paid out in his 2017-18 base salaries and roster bonuses. As Goessling notes, cutting Griffen after a year in which he dealt with mental health issues could seem cruel, but the club could save $10.7MM in cap space by doing so.
  • The Steelers have hired Adrian Klemm as assistant offensive line coach, the club announced this week. Pittsburgh lost offensive line coach Mike Munchak to the Broncos earlier this offseason, and replaced him by promoting Shaun Sarrett from within. Klemm, 41, enjoyed a six-year playing career with the Patriots and Packers before joining the collegiate coaching ranks in 2006. Most recently, Klemm was the offensive line coach/run game coordinator at UCLA from 2012-16.
  • Armed with the third-most cap space in the NFL, the Browns have begun to consider extensions for their current players. Cleveland has initiated talks with “most of” a group that includes linebacker Joe Schobert, safety Damarious Randall, tackle Greg Robinson, and receiver Rashard Higgins, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Schobert and Randall are still under contract through 2019, Higgins is scheduled to become a restricted free agent next month, and Robinson will be an unrestricted free agent.

Packers Notes: LaFleur, Rodgers, Murphy

Here’s the latest on the Packers and new head coach Matt LaFleur:

  • LaFleur will report directly to team president/CEO Mark Murphy, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (on Twitter). Such arrangements can lead to problems sometimes in the NFL, but GM Brian Gutekunst is presumably on board with the plan.
  • LaFleur told reporters that he that he had the opportunity to speak with Aaron Rodgers prior to accepting the job. “I cannot wait to get to work with him. I think he’s equally excited,” LaFleur said of Rodgers (Twitter link via Olivia Reiner of the team website).
  • The Packers interviewed a number of candidates for the job, but Murphy was unimpressed by everyone outside of LaFleur “Quite honestly, no one stood out,” Murphy said (Twitter link via Pelissero). After talking with other coaches, they interviewed LaFleur in Nashville on Sunday afternoon and found him to be “the most prepared candidate.”

Jim Caldwell Has Interviewed For Packers HC

Just before Christmas, it was reported that former Lions and Colts head coach Jim Caldwell would be a head coaching candidate in 2019. Just a few days later, he has apparently already interviewed for the vacancy in Green Bay, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports (Twitter link). 

The vacancy, of course, is the helm left after the team fired longtime head coach Mike McCarthy earlier in the season. A longtime quarterbacks coach, Caldwell would seemingly be a solid addition to work with Aaron Rodgers. In his career, Caldwell has worked with franchise quarterbacks such as Peyton Manning and Matthew Stafford.

However, Rodgers seemingly put his support behind interim head coach Joe Philbin after this past week’s win, according to Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal.

During his run as a head coach, Caldwell has amassed a 62-50 record and delivered three winning seasons in four campaigns with Detroit after the team logged just two such seasons in the previous 16 years before his arrival.

Before that, Caldwell was a longtime assistant with the Colts who became Indianapolis’ head coach in 2009 after Tony Dungy retired. He guided his club to an AFC championship in his first season at the helm and the Colts lost the Super Bowl that year. They returned to the playoffs in 2010, but finished 2011 with a 2-14 record after the season-long injury to Manning and Caldwell was fired at the end of the season.

Caldwell is a Wisconsin native who was born and raised in Beloit, just across the border from Illinois.

 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Aaron Rodgers Won’t Be Part Of Packers’ Coaching Search

After firing their longest-tenured coach since Curly Lambeau, the Packers will enter a hiring period with a high-profile vacancy.

While Green Bay’s next head coach will be tasked with recharging the Aaron Rodgers-led team and maximizing the championship potential created by the quarterback’s employment, the two-time MVP will not be part of the Packers’ coaching search, team president Mark Murphy said Monday (via Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com, on Twitter).

Obviously, he’s free to provide input and talk to us,” Murphy said, via Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com. “But he’s not going to be a part of the process. … The other thing I would say, Aaron was no part at all in the decision to move on from Mike (McCarthy).”

Murphy will be the one making the hire, not GM Brian Gutekunst, though Murphy said he obviously will not pick a coach with whom the soon-to-be second-year GM is uncomfortable. Gutekunst will be “actively involved” in the search, however (Twitter links via Wilde).

Gutekunst, Russ Ball and McCarthy each reported to Murphy this year in the Packers’ post-Ted Thompson-era arrangement. It appears that power structure will not change entering a crucial time for the franchise.

Interim head coach Joe Philbin will be a legitimate candidate, per Murphy (via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein, on Twitter). Rehired as offensive coordinator this offseason, Philbin was Green Bay’s OC during the team’s most recent Super Bowl title season and finished that stint in Rodgers’ 2011 MVP slate prior to becoming the Dolphins’ HC. But the two-stint Packers assistant landing the top job would obviously be an upset.

The Packers fired McCarthy early to dive into the search process early, but Murphy won’t be hiring a coach before the season ends, per Silverstein (on Twitter). While the Packers are mired in their most disappointing season in more than a decade, Rodgers (via Silverstein, on Twitter) doesn’t view the team as entering a rebuild. Prior to a Rodgers injury leading to the end of the Packers’ playoff streak last season, the franchise had qualified for the previous eight NFC brackets. At 4-7-1, the Packers are now a long shot to make that nine in 10 years.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Dez, Seahawks, McCarthy

Saints WR Dez Bryant suffered a brutal blow when he tore his Achilles just two days after signing with the club, thereby shelving him for about eight months. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network (video link) noted that Bryant’s recovery timeline could make his 2019 foray into free agency just as complicated as his 2018 one, though RapSheet does report in a separate piece that the Saints are open to bringing Bryant back next season (which Jay Glazer of FOX Sports [video link] also hears). Rapoport also says that Saints head coach Sean Payton fully expects Bryant to continue his playing career, and that Saints players quickly got to know Bryant and were stung by the injury (Twitter link). Given that, and given that Bryant made a concerted effort to improve his route running this offseason, perhaps he will still end up playing for New Orleans.

Let’s round up a few more items from the NFC:

  • Adam Schefter of ESPN.com details (via Twitter) the $500K in incentives (all tied to receptions) that were built in to Bryant’s contract with the Saints, which is obviously a moot point now. Earlier today, Schefter reported that the Saints are expected to pursue Brandon Marshall now that Bryant is on IR.
  • Rapoport writes that, when the Seahawks are sold to a new owner, the beneficiary of the transaction will be the Paul G. Allen Foundation, which consolidated the causes of recently-deceased owner Paul Allen. That means that the proceeds of the sale — which could exceed $2.5 billion — will be going to charity. As of now, Allen’s sister, Jody Allen, has taken more of a visible role in team operations, but the club is still expected to be sold (though it will remain in Seattle). Potential buyers are already preparing for the Seahawks to hit the market.
  • Pete Dougherty of PackersNews.com confirms what we have been hearing for some time: that something is off in the relationship between Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy, which could lead to McCarthy’s ouster at the end of the season. McCarthy is widely perceived to be on the hot seat, though Dougherty points out that team president/CEO Mark Murphy thinks highly of McCarthy and has final say over all football matters. However, Murphy will give a great deal of credence to the opinion of new GM Brian Gutekunst when it comes to the head coach’s future with the club.
  • We learned that top decision-makers for the Giants were in attendance at the Oregon-Utah game yesterday to scout Oregon QB Justin Herbert, even though Herbert is unlikely to enter the 2019 draft. Greg Joyce of the New York Post confirms that GM Dave Gettleman was one of the attendees, along with assistant GM Kevin Abrams and West Coast scout Jeremy Breit. If Herbert changes his mind and declares for the draft, New York will certainly be in play for him.
  • We learned earlier today that the Cowboys nearly fired OC Scott Linehan during last month’s bye.

NFC Notes: Manning, Giants, Cowboys, Packers, Redskins

Plenty of people criticized the Giants’ decision to take Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick. While Barkley has been electric, many people thought the opportunity to take one of this year’s class of quarterback prospects was too good to pass up. Eli Manning has struggled mightily this year, and the Giants now have no clear succession plan. Despite not drafting a quarterback early this year, New York “believed that somehow, some way, they’d find their heir apparent somewhere down the line”, according to Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.

Now that they might have to find that heir apparent earlier than expected, Vacchiano went through all the Giants’ options to find a quarterback of the future, including a trade before the deadline this year, free agency, and the draft. They have fourth round rookie Kyle Lauletta on the roster, and Vacchiano writes they must “absolutely take a look at him in a game this year.” One way or another, it looks like Manning’s days as the Giants’ starter are numbered.

Here’s more from the NFC:

  • There’s been growing frustration with Jason Garrett as coach of the Cowboys, especially after his decision to punt the ball away on 4th & 1 in overtime last week. While owner Jerry Jones and his son Stephen have insisted, Garret’s job isn’t in danger, “there’s been buzz in league circles indicating that the Joneses may eventually set their sights on Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley”, according to Albert Breer of SI.com.
  • Aaron Rodgers recently suffered a setback with his injured knee, but is looking to avoid going back to the bulky brace he had to wear initially, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN. Rodgers re-injured the knee on a hit he took early in the Packers’ loss to the Lions last week. The game against Detroit was his first game without the large brace that made it harder for him to move around.
  • Josh Norman was benched to start the second half of the Redskins’ loss to the Saints on Monday night, and it apparently wasn’t about his play. “It was definitely something between Gruden and Norman that got a little heated and definitely not because of him getting beat in coverage”, according to John Keim of ESPN (Twitter link). Apparently Norman and coach Jay Gruden got into an altercation at halftime, and this will be an interesting situation to monitor going forward.

Latest On Aaron Rodgers, Mike McCarthy

Packers star QB Aaron Rodgers made a few comments during his postgame press conference last week that many interpreted as a dig at his team’s coaching staff and its offensive play-calling. And Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes, even though Rodgers later went out of his way to clarify those comments, he remains frustrated with the state of Green Bay’s offense and is still upset about some of the changes made to the roster and coaching staff this offseason.

Of course, last week was not the first time that Rodgers has made comments indicating his displeasure with play-calling, and now that head coach Mike McCarthy has once again taken over play-calling duties, the relationship between McCarthy and Rodgers — which has already been a hot topic of conversation in recent years — is once again under the microscope.

Indeed, La Canfora says several sources who have “regular contact” with McCarthy and Rodgers wonder if the two will be working together in 2019. Obviously, the Packers are not going to part way with Rodgers, whom they just signed to the most lucrative contract in NFL history, but the team could certainly sever ties with McCarthy, whose contract runs through the 2019 season and whose job has not been entirely secure in the last several years anyway.

But Ian Rapoport of NFL.com paints a different picture. As indicated above, there has been tension between Green Bay’s head coach and its best player before, but the two men have always been able to resolve their issues in the past, and club CEO and president Mark Murphy expects more of the same this year.

Murphy did not deny that there was some strain in the McCarthy-Rodgers relationship at the moment, but he said it was a non-issue. Murphy is in regular contact with McCarthy and has spoken with Rodgers, and he said, “We’ve seen this before. I think they’ve had a great relationship. It’s just, two highly competitive people. The most important thing, they both want the same thing — they want us to win and obviously score as many points as possible. I think it’s a very stressful environment, too. Highly pressurized.”

Murphy added that Rodgers’ knee injury, which he sustained in Week 1, is rapidly improving, which will of course be a tremendous benefit to a team that is currently 19th in the league in scoring and 17th in total offense.

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