Bryan Cox

Sunday NFL Transactions: NFC South

Listed below are the Sunday roster moves for the four NFC South teams. Following the 53-man roster cutdown deadline yesterday, many teams will make slight tweaks to their rosters, claiming players off waivers or signing guys who clear waivers. Those transactions for the Falcons, Panthers, Saints, and Buccaneers are noted below.

Additionally, as of 12:00pm CT today, teams can begin constructing their 10-man practice squads. You can check out our glossary entry on practice squads to brush up on those changes, as well as all the other guidelines that govern the 10-man units, whose players practice with the team but aren’t eligible to suit up on Sundays.

Here are Sunday’s NFC South transactions, which will continue to be updated throughout the day:

Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Extra Points: Bills, Falcons, Saints, 2018 Draft Class

Some assorted notes from around the NFL…

  • Bills general manager Brandon Beane continues to grow his front office. According to Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News, the team has hired former Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey as their Senior College Scout. Prior to his gig with Miami, Beane spent almost 20 years with the Buccaneers. The Bills also re-hired three former scouts and Curtis Rukavina, the former Director of Player Personnel for the Toronto Argonauts.
  • The 2018 running back class “could be special,” says Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller. The writer specifically points to Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, with one executive saying the upcoming junior could be the best running back prospect of the past decade. Miller also points to LSU’s Derrius Guice and Ohio State’s Mike Weber among those who are primed for big 2017 seasons.
  • Saints undrafted rookie Justin Thomas served as the starting quarterback for Georgia Tech throughout his college career, but he’s been forced to make a position change in the NFL. Thomas originally auditioned for the Saints as a defensive back, but the team switched him to wideout at the beginning of the multi-day tryout, and the rookie ultimately earned a spot on the team. Predictably, Thomas would be willing to play any position if it meant he’d stick around for the regular season. “Of course, I would like to play quarterback, but at the same time, I’m a realist,” Thomas told Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com. “I didn’t want to lessen my opportunities, so I was open to anything.”
  • The Falcons let go of defensive line coach Bryan Cox back in February, and the former Pro Bowler believes his firing was attributed to his “incident” during the 2016 Combine when he reportedly shoved a Cardinals scout. “You go from your unit playing really well in the Super Bowl and sacking the quarterback five times and having [nine] quarterback hits . . . and [three] days later you get fired,” Cox told Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer (via Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com). “I wasn’t given an answer to why I was fired. I was left to go back and kind of play stuff over. And the only thing I can come up with is the Combine incident that kind of led to it.”

Falcons Fire DC Richard Smith

The Falcons have fired defensive coordinator Richard Smith and defensive line coach Bryan Cox, according to Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL Radio (Twitter link). Smith could eventually be re-assigned within the organization, sources tell Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com.Richard Smith (Vertical)

[RELATED: Falcons Hire OC Steve Sarkasian]

Atlanta may look to fill the DC vacancy with an internal hire, per McClure, who identifies secondary coach Marquand Manuel as a “strong” contender for the job. Manuel, 37, doesn’t boast any play-calling experience, but did interview for the Jaguars’ coordinator gig last offseason. Other internal candidates to become the Falcons’ next coordinator could include pass game coordinator Jerome Henderson, linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich, and receivers coach Raheem Morris, adds McClure. Henderson is on the 49ers’ radar, as well, as new head coach Kyle Shanahan reportedly wants to hire co-defensive coordinators.

Smith, meanwhile, has coached NFL defenses since the late-1980s, and has coordinated units in Miami and Houston in addition to Atlanta. Since joining the Falcons in 2015, Smith never led a defense that finished among the top half of the league in DVOA, with the team’s best finish coming in 2015 (22nd). This past season, Atlanta ranked just 27th in defensive DVOA, although the club improved as the season progressed. As McClure hinted at, Smith may stay with the Falcons, but is currently exploring his options, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

Cox is also on the outs after Atlanta’s defensive line ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of sacks, but finished just 24th and 25th in adjusted sack rate and adjusted line yards, respectively. Although he deserves credit for helping second-year end Vic Beasley flourish (and lead the NFL with 15.5 sacks), Cox’s unit was subpar overall. Cox, who’s coached in the NFL since 2006 following a long playing a career, is now a coaching free agent.

Given that Shanahan has left Atlanta, the Falcons will begin the 2017 campaign with new coordinators on each side of the ball. Steve Sarkasian has already been hired to replace Shanahan on offense, but the club also lost a respected offensive mind in quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, who was hired as the Rams’ new OC.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Draft Rumors: Jack, Lawson, Kearse, Alexander

This week being veteran-centric, let’s look at the latest occurring at some of the draft prospects who will soon take over the NFL news cycle.

  • Myles Jack received full clearance during a visit with a UCLA surgeon, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Rapoport adds that Jack, a projected top-10 pick, is ready to ramp up training following this positive diagnosis.
  • Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson met with the Jets, Titans and Saints on Wednesday and told Dan Hope of OrangeandWhite.com (on Twitter) he’s visiting the Browns next.
  • Lawson also has a private workout with the Falcons upcoming, D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweets. Lawson told Ledbetter he speaks with Falcons defensive line coach Bryan Cox, illuminating a connection between the defensive end-needy Falcons and the Clemson pass-rusher.
  • During Clemson’s pro day today, safety Jayron Kearse told media (including Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times, via Twitter) he’s scheduled visits with the Buccaneers, Jaguars, Lions, Saints and Steelers.
  • NFL personnel are “gushing” over Clemson corner Mackensie Alexander‘s workout at the Tigers’ pro day, while scouts weren’t as taken with Kearse’s positional-drills work, per Tony Pauline of WalterFootball.com. One source told Pauline that Kearse would be better off “gaining 20 pounds and moving to linebacker.”

South Notes: Falcons, Colts, Saints, Texans

In addition to announcing Dan Quinn as their new head coach today, the Falcons confirmed several other members of their coaching staff, via a team release. As previously reported, Kyle Shanahan will serve as the offensive coordinator in Atlanta, while Richard Smith will be the defensive coordinator and Raheem Morris will hold the title of assistant head coach and defensive passing game coordinator.

Other members of Quinn’s staff include Bobby Turner (RBs coach), Mike LaFleur (offensive assistant), Keith Armstrong (ST coordinator), Bryan Cox (DL coach), Wade Harman (TEs coach), Terry Robiskie (WRs coach), and Eric Sutulovich (assistant ST coach).

Here’s more on the Falcons and a few other teams from the NFC South and AFC South:

  • Perhaps more interesting than any of the Falcons‘ assistant coach announcements was the revelation that Quinn will indeed have control of the 53-man roster, as had been speculated (Twitter link via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal Constitution). As Albert Breer of the NFL Network tweets, GM Thomas Dimitroff still has final say over the draft and free agency, so it’s a setup similar to the one in Seattle.
  • Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will get paid, but Stephen Holder of the Indy Star doesn’t necessarily see it happening this offseason. When Luck does get that fat contract, likely worth $20-$25MM annually, it won’t leave the Colts completely thin across the board as the team has been anticipating this for quite some time. The Colts currently rank in the bottom half of the league in current spending, giving them significant flexibility both this year and in years to come.
  • Evan Woodbery of The Times-Picayune writes that the Saints will still have to do some serious financial maneuvering this offseason beyond turning roster bonuses into signing bonuses. That maneuvering, while keeping the Saints “legal” for the start of the new league year on March 10, would leave no room for signing new players or improving the roster. Many have said that the Saints will be impeded by their big spending, but Woodbery notes that they have found themselves in this spot before. Last offseason, they didn’t find themselves with a lot of breathing room, but they still found a way to sign safety Jairus Byrd to a large multi-year deal.
  • The Texans have hired Mike Devlin (OL coach), Pat O’Hara (offensive assistant), and Paul Pasqualoni (DL coach), and promoted Anthony Pleasant to a defensive assistant role, the team announced today in a press release.

Zach Links contributed to this post.

Coach Notes: Joseph, Broncos, Falcons, Bears

It’s been a busy day so far for coaching movement around the NFL, as a pair of 2014 head coaches – Doug Marrone and Dennis Allen – found new assistant roles. Two NFC teams also reached agreements with new defensive coordinators, with the Bears landing Vic Fangio and Washington hiring Joe Barry.

There are still several notable openings around the league, and a handful of coaching-related updates to pass along this afternoon, so let’s dive right in…

  • Buzz around the league still suggests that Bengals secondary coach Vance Joseph is a favorite for the Broncos‘ defensive coordinator vacancy, tweets Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com. However, Alex Marvez of Fox Sports reports that the Bengals would still need to grant Joseph permission to leave his position in Cincinnati, which the team has yet to do.
  • While there’s some work to be done on the defensive side of the ball, Gary Kubiak and the Broncos have finalized their offensive staff, according to Mike Klis of the Denver Post, who passes along the details in his latest piece.
  • Multiple sources tell Marvez that presumed Falcons head coach Dan Quinn will retain Atlanta’s defensive line coach Bryan Cox and special teams coordinator Keith Armstrong. It’s not clear if Cox will hold the same title under Quinn, but the plan is for him to work with the Falcons’ front seven, writes Marvez.
  • In addition to reaching an agreement with Fangio today, the Bears also parted ways with several assistants, according to Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times. Jahns tweets that linebackers coach Reggie Herring, tight ends coach Andy Bischoff, and special teams assistant Dwayne Stukes won’t return to the club.
  • Appearing on The John Murphy Show (audio link via BuffaloBills.com), Bills co-owner Kim Pegula admitted that the team didn’t have Rex Ryan on its short list heading into the head coaching interview process, but loved the impression he made in his interview (hat tip to Pro Football Talk). “Rex almost was a candidate we put in there because obviously his name was all around as a candidate that was open and we really didn’t give much thought to him,” Pegula said. “We had obviously interviewed a lot of people before him. And he came in and I think we were just very pleasantly surprised at how very down to earth he really was in person and his love of the game and some of the things that he said on what he really wanted to do with his life and where he wanted to help us as being part of the team.”