Byron Leftwich

Extra Points: Offseason Moves, 2019 Cap Space, Browns, Hyde, Cardinals, Leftwich, Wilks

NFL free agency is always a wildcard. There’s plenty of risk in signing players to big contracts, as not all players can transition smoothly across teams as easily as NBA and MLB players can. There’s often a lack of fit in particular system, or other factors that turn big signings into big busts. Every year teams end up wrecking their cap space on pricey veterans who don’t work out, while others make moves that make them look like geniuses.

Former NFL agent and current CBS Sports analyst Joel Corry took a look at some of the biggest hits and misses from teams’ offseason, with the Bears’ trade for Khalil Mack being his biggest hit and the Cardinals’ signing of Sam Bradford being his biggest miss. He highlights several more under-the-radar hits like the Colts’ signing of Eric Ebron and the Ravens bringing in John Brown, and talks about the finances involved. Some of the other misses include the mammoth contract the Titans gave to cornerback Malcolm Butler and the Cowboys’ signing of Allen Hurns. Butler has already been benched in Tennessee and Corry writes that he’s “doing his best to validate Patriots head coach Bill Belichick’s mysterious benching of him in Super Bowl LII.” The whole article is definitely worth a read.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Speaking of the cap, salary cap expert Jason Fitzgerald of Overthecap.com tweeted out his projections for which teams will have the most and least salary cap space in 2019. The Colts currently project to have the most space with $119MM while the Eagles project to have the least, coming in $15MM over the cap before they make necessary cuts.
  • With the Browns’ shocking trade of Carlos Hyde, Cleveland has added another draft pick to their arsenal. The “Browns now have their picks in rounds 1-6, plus a 3rd-round pick from New England (DL Danny Shelton), a 5th-round pick from Jacksonville (RB Carlos Hyde), a 5th-round pick from New England (WR Josh Gordon) and a conditional 7th-round pick from Jacksonville (QB Cody Kessler)”, Adam Schefter notes (Twitter link). Previous Browns GM Sashi Brown was aggressive in adding draft capital through trades, and his successor John Dorsey seems to be following in his footsteps.
  • The Cardinals made a move many had been anticipating for weeks today when they fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. Cardinals coach Steve Wilks was asked about Byron Leftwich, McCoy’s replacement, and whether Leftwich was an interim coach or permanent. Wilks responded “right now it’s hard to say anyone (on staff) is going to be permanent”, according to Darren Urban of the team’s official website (Twitter link). Wilks’ comments suggest he’s thinking what others in the media have been saying, that his job isn’t necessarily safe either. While it would still be surprising at this point, it certainly seems possible Wilks is a one-and-done in Arizona.

Cardinals Fire OC Mike McCoy

After a disastrous 45-10 loss to the Broncos on Thursday night, the Cardinals fired offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. To replace him, the Cardinals promoted quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich

McCoy’s job security has been a topic of discussion for weeks. Through seven games, the Cardinals have averaged just 13.1 points per game, which ranks 31st in the NFL. They’re also dead last in total yards per game, third-down conversion percentage, time of possession, and rushing yards. Something had to give, and the embarrassing loss to Denver was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

It’s an ironic end to McCoy’s tenure in Arizona since the Broncos fired McCoy in the midst of the 2017 season. Denver started off strong with a 3-1 start last year, but the team lost patience after a six-game losing streak knocked them out of playoff contention. This year, the Cardinals had enough after a 1-5 start and an embarrassing primetime loss in which Josh Rosen lobbed his third, fourth, and fifth interceptions of the year.

Leftwich, the Jaguars’ longtime quarterback, was brought in by former coach Bruce Arians as a coaching intern in 2016. Last year, he was hired as the team’s quarterbacks coach. Leftwich doesn’t have previous OC experience, but he did call plays in a couple of 2017 exhibition games.

I’m a pretty confident guy, but I had never done it, and I had never practiced it,” Leftwich said of his OC audition. “That’s the tough part. Knowing B.A., B.A. ain’t going to give you two weeks in practice to prepare. He gave me a 10-play period to call them. The first time I ever called plays was in the game. I wish I would have done a few things here and there better, but that’s the exciting part of growing in this business. That helped my growth.”

Leftwich will make his OC debut on Sunday, Oct. 28 against the 49ers. After that, the Cardinals have a Week 9 bye.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC West Notes: Seahawks, Cardinals, 49ers

Safety Earl Thomas had made waves with his perceived discontent with the Seahawks over the past month or so, and he now sounds serious about initiating a contract holdout, according to Brady Henderson of ESPN.com“I want to finish my career there,” Thomas said. “I definitely don’t see myself going out there not signed. But I’m going to continue to work my butt off and enjoy this process at the Pro Bowl. As far as my future in Seattle, I think if they want me, you know, money talks. We’ll get something accomplished. Other than that, I’m just taking it one day at a time.” Thomas, 28, is entering the final year of his current contract, and says Seattle has yet to initiate negotiation discussions. He’s currently earning $10MM annually, which ranks sixth among NFL safeties.

Here’s more from the NFC West:

  • New Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks has opted to retain incumbent quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Former Arizona head coach Bruce Arians has been especially vocal about Leftwich’s future prospects, noting last June that the former first-round pick would become “a head coach early and fast.” Elsewhere on staff, wide receivers coach Kevin Garver and tight ends coach Steve Heiden could stay on with the Cardinals, per Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic (Twitter link), while inside linebackers coach Larry Foote will return, tweets Alex Marvez of the Sporting News. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have also announced Jeff Rodgers — who’s coached with the Bears, Broncos, and Panthers — as their new special teams coordinator.
  • While the 49ers are confident that they’ll be able to extend quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, there is a chance San Francisco will be forced to use a franchise or transition tag, leading Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk to examine the benefits and drawbacks of each tender. The transition tag is roughly $2MM cheaper than the non-exclusive franchise tag, but it also comes with the threat of another team snagging Garoppolo without the 49ers collecting draft pick compensation. However, general manager John Lynch & Co. lead the league in cap space, meaning they’d be able to match nearly any offer sheet Garoppolo receives from another club.
  • The 49ers are searching for an assistant defensive line coach to work under Jeff Zgonina, reports Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area (Twitter link). USC defensive line coach Kenechi Udeze was in the 49ers’ facility on Thursday, so there’s a possibility he was interviewing for the position, per Maiocco. Vince Oghobaase held the title of assistant OL coach in 2017, but he’s since joined the UCLA staff.

NFC West Notes: Smelter, 49ers, Cardinals

The odds are against receiver DeAndre Smelter making the 49ers‘ final cut, Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee writes. Even though he’s 6’2″ and the rest of the team’s WRs are lacking size, the numbers crunch will make it hard for him to stick. The starters right now are Pierre Garcon, Marquise Goodwin, and Jeremy Kerley. Meanwhile, Kyle Shanahan favorite Trent Taylor is almost assured a roster spot and Aldrick Robinson has a leg up thanks to his familiarity with Shanahan’s system. That leaves seven receivers, including Smelter, vying for one potential spot.

Here’s more from the NFC West:

Cardinals Uncertain If Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald Will Return

The two players most associated with the Cardinals’ passing game this decade have not yet decided on returning for the 2017 season. Neither Carson Palmer nor Larry Fitzgerald has informed the Cardinals about his plans for ’17, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports. Both are considering retirement and have been for some time, per Rapoport.

While the Cardinals do not know the duo’s plans, they have been communicating with their quarterback and No. 1 wide receiver since their season ended. And although no set deadline exists, the team would like to know each’s decision by mid-February in order to have sufficient time to plan an offseason strategy. Key Cardinals personnel expect both to return, but Rapoport notes that thinking could be based on hope, to some degree.

A factor in Palmer’s decision will be Arizona’s quarterbacks coach. Freddie Kitchens will now coach the Cardinals’ running backs, with Byron Leftwich — a 2003 draft class mate of Palmer’s — recently hired to coach the QBs. Palmer has not worked with Leftwich, which is factoring into his decision, per Rapoport. Several NFL personnel — one GM, two coaches and several talent evaluators — believe Palmer will retire after observing his 2016 season. But many people close to the quarterback insist he doesn’t know yet.

The tandem’s contract extensions signed last August are not believed to be a factor in this decision-making process, according to Rapoport. Fitzgerald and Palmer are each under contract through 2017, and Palmer intimated multiple times late in 2016 he was planning to come back for his age-37 season. Fitzgerald, though, was more hesitant.

In December, Palmer attempted to convince Fitzgerald to play at least one more season. Fitz’s status for what would be his age-34 slate depends on Palmer, Rapoport reports. A source informed Rapoport Fitzgerald would have a harder time returning if Palmer retires due to the uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position. Much of Fitzgerald’s prime encompassed the years between Kurt Warner and Palmer, limiting his capabilities.

Palmer did not fare nearly as well this season as he did when he was an MVP candidate in 2015, but Fitzgerald led the NFL with 107 receptions. Fitzgerald is signed through the 2017 season and would make $11MM in base salary. Palmer is under contract through 2018 and will earn $15MM in base if he comes back. These two represent Arizona’s top two cap holds for ’17, with Palmer set to comprise $24.09MM of the Cards’ cap and Fitz set to take up $15.85MM of it.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Steelers, Seahawks, Ravens, Jets

The NFL is “looking into” whether the Steelers violated its policy in not listing running back Le’Veon Bell on their injury reports in recent weeks, including before last Sunday’s AFC championship game, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (Twitter link). Bell departed the title game early because of a groin injury, and he then revealed after the Steelers’ 36-17 loss to New England that it had had been a problem for weeks. At no point did the Steelers disclose the ailment, though, which is why the league is investigating the matter.

Of course, the league is also scrutinizing the Seahawks for a similar issue involving cornerback Richard Sherman. That could lead to the loss of a second-round pick for Seattle, whose general manager, John Schneider, told SiriusXM on Thursday that the club “didn’t do anything malicious at all” (via Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times).

Sherman, meanwhile, believes “it would be odd, out of the norm” for the Seahawks to receive punishment, and he doesn’t expect the league to discipline the Steelers. “Le’Veon said he’s got a groin (issue) for weeks, they’re going to get a warning,” he told Conor Orr of NFL.com. “Andrew (Luck) played with cracked ribs for a whole year (back in 2015). You see what I’m saying?”

More from around the league:

  • While the possibility of the Ravens cutting wide receiver Mike Wallace this offseason in order to save $5.75MM has come up, he remains in the team’s plans, relays Clifton Brown of CSNMidAtlantic.com. Thanks to Steve Smith‘s retirement and Kamar Aiken‘s forthcoming departure, Wallace is easily the most accomplished receiver the Ravens have under contract for next season. In 2016, his age-30 campaign, Wallace finished in the top two among Ravens in receptions (72; first), yards (1,017; first), targets (117; second), yards per catch (14.1; second) and touchdowns (four; second). He’s also still one of the league’s fastest wideouts, as Brown details.
  • The Jets have hired Hall of Fame linebacker Kevin Greene to coach their OLBs, tweets Sporting News’ Alex Marvez. Greene, who’s third all-time in sacks (160), last coached the Packers’ OLBs from 2009-13.
  • Former NFL quarterback Byron Leftwich is taking over as the Cardinals’ QBs coach, according to Marvez (Twitter link). He’ll displace Freddie Kitchens, who will become the team’s running backs coach. That role previously belonged to Stump Mitchell, who was in a contract year and elected not to come back for 2017. Leftwich’s introduction to coaching came last year as an intern with the Cards.

NFC Notes: Tulloch, Schofield, Reed, Cardinals

Way back in February, a report surfaced suggesting that the Lions were planning to release veteran linebacker Stephen Tulloch when the new league year opened. However, the first week of the league year came and went without any roster moves involving Tulloch, and he has remained a Lion for nearly two more full months since then.

Appearing on PFT Live on Monday, Lions general manager Bob Quinn said there’s still “a chance” that Tulloch remains with the team for the 2016 season. However, a source tells Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk that the linebacker’s release is likely “imminent.” That comes as no surprise — Detroit reportedly made efforts to work out a trade involving Tulloch, but it seems there hasn’t been any movement on that front.

Here’s more from around the NFC:

  • We heard last week that free agent linebacker O’Brien Schofield is interested in rejoining the Falcons. According to head coach Dan Quinn, the door is “never closed with Scho.” However, as Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com details, the two sides have been unable to agree on contract terms, despite the fact that Atlanta made Schofield an offer.
  • Master Tesfatsion of the Washington Post breaks down the specific details on Jordan Reed‘s long-term extension with Washington, which is worth $48.421MM over five years.
  • Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk previews the extension talks between the Cardinals and defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, which should become more serious in the coming weeks or months.
  • Ex-NFL quarterback Byron Leftwich has a new job, having joined the Cardinals as a coaching intern under Bruce Arians, as Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com outlines. The former Jaguars starting quarterback will be with Arizona throughout the offseason and in training camp. “After that, we’ll see,” Arians said. “Hopefully I can keep him all year. I think he’s got a great, bright future in coaching.”