Byron Leftwich

Extra Points: Smith, Easterby, Ogunjobi

Perhaps the best story of the unprecedented 2020 NFL season was the improbable return of Alex Smith. Not only did Smith shockingly return to the starting lineup for Washington, something nobody in their right mind saw coming, he also went 5-1 as a starter and led them to a playoff berth. He didn’t always look too mobile, and a calf injury to the same leg he had his devastating infections in cut his season short prematurely. But if you were expecting Smith to ride off into the sunset after his incredible triumph, you might be in for a surprise. In a recent interview with the Rachel Ray show, the quarterback certainly didn’t sound like someone dead-set on retiring.

For me, this year was such a crazy rush to be out there, practicing out there every single day. To be able to put on my cleats and helmet. But for me, the crazy thing was how well my body responded to that. I just feel like I continued to get stronger and stronger and better and better,” the Washington signal-caller said. “I still feel like I’m kind of a kid right now headed into the offseason. I’m excited for this offseason to see what I can go do — football and everything else. Skiing, snowboarding — I plan on doing as much as I can. I had such an amazing time playing. I felt so good out there. It was crazy after that first game how comfortable I felt back out on the field.”

If Smith does want to keep playing he might have to do it with a new team, as Washington appears to be looking to upgrade at the position. They reportedly were aggressive in going after Matthew Stafford, offering their first-round pick and then some. Smith is under contract for two more seasons, but Washington can get out of it fairly easily this offseason. No matter what happens next, Smith has already shattered all expectations and can hold his head high.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • If you were a Texans fan hoping that controversial exec Jack Easterby would quietly slink into the background after all the Deshaun Watson drama, you might be disappointed. “Easterby is still making calls to agents on behalf of the team and is very much involved in football side,” Lance Zierlein of hears (Twitter link). As Zierlein points out, that would conflict with Houston’s stated spin that Easterby is merely a pastor and ‘character coach’ of sorts. He seems to be very much involved in football ops alongside new GM Nick Caserio. For whatever reasons, Easterby seems to be sitting pretty in his role and clearly has a great deal of influence with owner Cal McNair. We haven’t heard the last of him, and this saga has no end in sight.
  • The Browns are coming off an incredibly successful season that saw them make it back to the playoffs for the first time in nearly 20 years, but there will still be changes coming in Cleveland. One of the biggest could be the departure of defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. Ogunjobi will likely be allowed to hit free agency and the Browns “probably won’t want to pay him what he can get on the open market,” Mary Kay Cabot of writes. Ogunjobi has been a very solid player for Cleveland, starting at least 15 games each of the past three seasons, but with Sheldon Richardson still also manning the middle and fellow defensive tackle Andrew Billings set to return from COVID opt-out in 2021, Kay Cabot thinks he’s expendable.
  • Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy has gotten a lot of attention for getting passed over for head coaching jobs, but Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians is similarly upset about the other offensive coordinator coaching in the Super Bowl. “I was very, very pissed that Byron [Leftwich] didn’t at least get an interview this year for the job that he’s done,” Arians said, via Jenna Laine of (Twitter link). “I get way too much credit and so does Tom Brady for the job that Byron has done.” Strong words from Arians in support of his OC, the former quarterback who spent 10 years as a player in the league from 2003-12. Leftwich got his coaching start as Arians’ quarterbacks coach with the Cardinals in 2017, and was then hired as his OC when he took the job in Tampa in 2019. If the Bucs have this kind of success again in 2021, Leftwich probably will start to get some serious head coaching buzz next cycle.

South Notes: Fuller, Quinn, Leftwich

The Texans are hopeful that wide receiver Will Fuller will be able to retake the field next week in Baltimore against the Ravens, according to Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle. Fuller has missed the team’s previous two games after suffering a hamstring injury against the Colts.

Fuller is one of the best deep threats in football, especially when he takes the field opposite of all-pro DeAndre Hopkins. Prior to his injury, Fuller was on pace to eclipse 70 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards for the first time in his career. Those marks may be unattainable now, but at 6-3, the Texans are in the thick of the AFC playoff picture coming out of their bye. Fuller would surely aid them in their pursuit of a Super Bowl title.

Here’s more from the NFC and AFC South:

  • Falcons head coach Dan Quinn has been firmly on the hot-seat for many weeks. However, after a dominating victory over the Saints on Sunday, Quinn has bought himself at least a temporary reprieve, according to Ian Rapoport of Just a few seasons away from a Super Bowl appearance, this year has fallen far short of expectations, especially on defense. However, New Orleans potent offense looked overwhelmed for much of the game.
  • After a 30-27 victory in a shootout against the Cardinals, the Buccaneers offense continues to produce in spit of Jameis Winston‘s propensity for turnovers. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich deserves a large amount of credit as the playcaller, however, he almost never got the responsibilities in the first place. In the offseason, head coach Bruce Arians had to convince ownership that someone other than him should call plays, according to Rick Stroud of The Tampa Bay Times.

NFC Notes: Leftwich, Nkemdiche, Seahawks

Not long after the Buccaneers hired Bruce Arians as their head coach in January, we learned that Arians’ new OC, Byron Leftwich, would be calling the team’s offensive plays and that Arians considered Leftwich a rising star in the coaching ranks. And as Jenna Laine of reports, Arians’ confidence in Leftwich is such that Arians himself is not even in Jameis Winston‘s quarterbacks meeting rooms — despite Arians’ reputation as a quarterback whisperer — and Leftwich is running those meetings. This is a critical campaign for Winston, who is playing under his fifth-year option, and therefore something of a crossroads for the franchise itself. Leftwich has a lot on his plate for a young coach, but Arians clearly believes he is up to the task.

Now for more from the NFC:

  • Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic believes that the Cardinals will cut Robert Nkemdiche before he plays another snap for the club. The former first-round pick was recently arrested for driving on a suspended license, and police found a credit card case that had a white powdery residue consistent with cocaine inside. Somers says that police decided not to test the case and elected to simply destroy it instead, but it’s still not a good look for Nkemdiche. The fact that the defensive lineman is still recovering from a knee injury and is due a $400K roster bonus if he is still on the club on the fifth day of training camp could complicate matters, but Somers still expects Nkemdiche to be gone sooner rather than later.
  • Seahawks OT Jamarco Jones, a fifth-round draft choice in 2018, did not see any regular season action during his rookie campaign, as he suffered an ankle injury in the preseason opener that put him on the shelf for the whole year. Still, he flashed potential last training camp, and Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times expects him to make the club as a backup tackle. And, with George Fant and Germain Ifedi eligible for free agency in 2020, Jones could position himself nicely for a starting role next year.
  • Condotta also expects the Seahawks to continue exploring pass rush options and secondary help.
  • We heard earlier today that the Lions are exploring a deal with free agent DT Domata Peko.

Assistant Coaching Rumors: Broncos, Browns, Packers, Rams, Buccaneers

Now that the head coaching carousel is pretty much wrapped up, everyone’s attention will now be turning to the assistant coaching ranks. One team that has a lot to sort out is the Broncos, now that we know Gary Kubiak won’t be joining as the team’s offensive coordinator. Broncos defensive backs coach Greg Williams won’t be returning next year, according to Mike Klis of Denver 9News (Twitter link). In a separate tweet, Klis writes that league sources told him Bears defensive backs coach Ed Donatell will be a “top target” of new Broncos coach Vic Fangio to join his defensive staff. In a third tweet, Klis notes that the Browns are targeting Chris Strausser, who currently coaches the Broncos’ offensive tackles, to join Freddie Kitchens’ staff in Cleveland.

Here’s the latest from the coaching circuit:

  • Matt LaFleur is the Packers’ new coach, and while it has already been announced that he’ll be bringing back defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and the rest of the defensive coaches, he still needs to round out his offensive staff. Jets WR’s coach Karl Dorrell will interview for the same position with Green Bay, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Twitter link). Dorrell got his start under Mike Shanahan, who LaFleur also used to coach under, so the connection is there.
  • The Rams are losing Zac Taylor to the Bengals, as their 35-year-old quarterbacks coach will take over the head coaching gig in Cincinnati, and they almost lost another assistant. Senior offensive assistant Jedd Fisch had an interview for the head coaching vacancy at Temple, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network (Twitter link). Rapoport also notes that Fisch, the former Jaguars and UCLA offensive coordinator, could be “an option to fill a key offensive position next year” with the departure of Taylor.
  • Byron Leftwich wasn’t able to do much after taking over as the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator this season, but Bruce Arians has a ton of confidence in his new offensive coordinator with the Buccaneers. Arians called Leftwich a “rising star” and said Arizona’s offensive struggles were because they weren’t running Leftwich’s offense, per Nick Shook of It’s been rumored that Arians views Leftwich as his eventual successor when he retires from coaching for good.

NFC South Notes: Bucs, Falcons, Panthers

New Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich will call plays in Tampa Bay, head coach Bruce Arians told The Rich Eisen Show (Twitter link via Thomas Bassinger of the Tampa Bay Times). That’s something of a surprise, as Arians led the offense when he was the Cardinals’ head coach. Leftwich took over as Arizona’s OC after Mike McCoy was fired four games into the 2018 campaign, but he couldn’t get the Cardinals out of the NFL rankings cellar in terms of points and yards. Arians will still have a heavy hand in Tampa Bay’s offense, while new run game coordinator Harold Goodwin will also have input.

Here’s more from the NFC South:

  • Former Redskins special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica has joined the Falcons in the same capacity, Atlanta announced today. He’ll replace Keith Armstrong, who was one of three Atlanta coordinators fired after the 2018 campaign. Washington ranked two spots higher in special teams DVOA than Atlanta a season ago, per Football Outsiders, finishing with better results in kickoffs and punt returns. Kotwica has worked in the NFL since 2007, working his way up from quality control coach to special teams coordinator with the Jets.
  • Armstrong, meanwhile, will take over as the Buccaneers‘ new special teams coach, tweets Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times. He’d been linked to Tampa Bay ever since Arians was rumored to be taking the head coaching position, and for good reason: as Auman notes, Armstrong played for Arians at Temple 35 years ago. Armstrong, who was a candidate for the Cardinals’ head coaching job in 2018, was fired by the Falcons last week, but quickly interviewed for a gig with the Bills before landing with the Buccaneers.
  • The Buccaneers have hired former Broncos offensive line coach Sean Kugler for the same position, reports Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). The Bills also had interest in interviewing Kugler before he signed on with Tampa Bay, according to Ryan Talbot of New York Upstate. Kugler, previously the head coach at UTEP, joined Denver in 2018 and guided a Broncos front five which ranked as a top-12 unit in both adjusted line yards and adjusted sack rate. Other Tampa Bay hires include former Jets coach Mike Caldwell (linebackers) and ex-Cardinals coach Rick Christophel (tight ends), per Auman (Twitter links).
  • After being fired by the Jaguars last week, Perry Fewell is interviewing for the Panthers‘ secondary coach job on Wednesday, tweets Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer. A former defensive coordinator for the Bills and Giants, Fewell worked with Carolina coach head coach Ron Rivera in Chicago in 2005. The Panthers still have Richard Rodgers in place as a secondary coach, but they’ve lost multiple defensive backs coach within the past year. Curtis Fuller resigned as the team’s secondary coach last summer, while assistant Jeff Imamura was fired as part of a housecleaning in early December.

Buccaneers Officially Hire Bruce Arians

The Buccaneers-Bruce Arians noise produced the conclusion many expected. The two-time coach of the year is heading to Tampa Bay, as first reported by Adam Schefter of (on Twitter). The Bucs have since confirmed the hire via press release.

Bruce Arians is one of the NFL’s most well-respected coaches over the past two decades and we are excited to have him leading our team,” Buccaneers owner Bryan Glazer said in a statement. “Throughout this process, we focused on finding the right coach with a proven ability to elevate our players and lead our team forward. Bruce has played a large role in the development and career success of some of our league’s best players and we look forward to seeing him continue that work here with our franchise.

This will be a four-year deal with a team option for a fifth season, Ian Rapoport of tweets. And Arians wants to bring some of his former Cardinals assistants with him. Byron Leftwich, Harold Goodwin and Clyde Christensen — an Arians coworker with the Colts — will be brought on board and Todd Bowles has already agreed to become the team’s defensive coordinator. Bowles was Arians’ DC for two seasons with the Cardinals.

Arians-to-Tampa gained steam over the past few days, and it turns out the former Cardinals coach’s retirement was brief. Arians is now going to rejoin former Cards personnel exec Jason Licht with the Bucs and be in charge of determining what can be coaxed from Jameis Winston, whom he’s known since the passer’s high school days.

The Bucs had initial concerns about the 66-year-old Arians’ health, per Jeff Darlington of (Twitter link). This required a physical. But they are satisfied with the results. That, and language in Arians’ Arizona contract — which contained a 2019 option — represent cleared hurdles now, Darlington notes. Of note: Arians is the oldest HC hire in NFL history, surpassing a 64-year-old Dick Vermeil.

Arians interviewed for the Tampa Bay job on Saturday morning and outflanked everyone else on the meeting list in terms of experience. The 2012 and ’14 coach of the year, the first coming when he was the Colts’ OC who took over for a cancer-stricken Chuck Pagano, Arians has guided three teams to the playoffs — that Colts team and two Cardinals squads. Armed with the NFL’s No. 1 offense, Arizona advanced to the 2015 NFC championship game under Arians. They produced a top-10 attack in 2016 as well. After Arians’ retirement, the Cardinals fell off quickly. They hired Kliff Kingsbury today to replace Steve Wilks, who oversaw the team’s descent from 8-8 to 3-13.

Spending the 2018 season as a CBS analyst, Arians initially said the only job he would come out of retirement to take was the Browns’ position. But Cleveland did not reciprocate the interest. Tampa Bay did and was the only team to interview Arians. The sides were believed to have only begun negotiations Tuesday, and they progressed quickly.

Arians will now be tasked with ending the NFC’s longest playoff drought. The Bucs have not qualified for a bracket since 2007, in Jon Gruden‘s penultimate season, and have fired five coaches since that happened.

Licht announced last week that the candidate who won the race to replace Dirk Koetter was going to work with Winston. Despite the quarterback’s off-field issues and interception troubles, he figures to have his best chance at showing he’s a capable starter under Arians. In Arizona, Arians resurrected Carson Palmer‘s career and pushed him to a near-MVP performance in 2015. Arians received his 2014 coach of the year honor for steering the Cards to 11-5 after losing Palmer and Drew Stanton to injuries.

The Bucs also employ Mike Evans, O.J. Howard and Chris Godwin on offense, and the team wants to bring back Adam Humphries to retain one of the franchise’s best-ever skill-position groups — one that is more well-rounded than the David Johnson-less contingent Arians had in his final Arizona season.

Bowles has also received interest from the Redskins, interviewing with Washington on Tuesday, but another job with Arians figures to be enticing.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bowles, Leftwich, Goodwin To Join Bucs’ Staff

Bruce Arians is moving fast on his way to Tampa Bay. And Cardinals fans will recognize much of the Buccaneers’ new coaching staff.

Todd Bowles will join Arians in Tampa and serve as the Bucs’ defensive coordinator, Albert Breer of tweets. Byron Leftwich and Harold Goodwin have pledged to follow Arians to south Florida as well.

Leftwich will serve as Tampa Bay’s passing-game coordinator, and Goodwin will come aboard as the run-game overseer, Breer notes. Like Bowles, both worked under Arians in Arizona. Leftwich received his full-time coaching start under Arians and moved up to Cardinals OC under Steve Wilks. The Cardinals, following a season that ended with No. 32 rankings in points and yards, fired him at season’s end, however, paving a path to Tampa.

Bowles met with Washington about an unspecified role Tuesday, but he will rejoin Arians. The former NFL defensive back-turned-Jets HC made his best case for that New York job by leading the Cardinals’ defense in 2013-14. They were a top-seven unit in each season, helping the Cards to back-to-back 10-win campaigns. Matters did not go too well for Bowles in New York (with a less talented roster), but he will be tasked with repairing a Bucs defense that has been among the league’s worst in recent years.

Tampa Bay has ranked in the bottom fourth of the NFL in total defense in each of the past four years, its low point coming with a last-place finish in 2017. It will be interesting to see if Bowles implements the 3-4 scheme he used in Arizona and New York. The Bucs have used a 4-3 base set for years. Though, these changes are less significant than they were in years past, with teams in sub sets more often than base looks.

Goodwin did not coach in 2018. He served as the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator during Arians’ five-year tenure, though Arians was the point man running that attack. The Cards in that time coaxed an All-Pro emergence from Division I-FCS-produced third-rounder David Johnson. He will take over a Bucs rushing attack that lagged behind its explosive pass offense in 2018.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Cardinals To Fire Byron Leftwich, Al Holcomb

Byron Leftwich stayed on from the Bruce Arians regime but will not be sticking around with the Cardinals with a third coaching staff.

The Cardinals fired both Leftwich, their interim OC, and DC Al Holcomb, Josh Weinfuss of tweets. While Leftwich was viewed as a rising talent with Arians, and ascended to OC in merely his second season as a full-time coach this year under Steve Wilks, but was not expected to be back had Wilks kept his interim job, Albert Breer of reports (on Twitter).

Both firings could have been expected, with the Cardinals completing a 3-13 season and making a head coach a one-and-done for the first time in more than 60 years. Holcomb came over with Wilks from Carolina, having served as a position coach there. This marked his first season as an NFL DC.

Leftwich became a full-time coach last year and was named quarterbacks coach this offseason. After Mike McCoy‘s in-season ouster, Leftwich rose to Arizona’s OC job. He will now be on the market to continue his coaching career. Under both McCoy and Leftwich, the Cards featured a historically bad offense. They ranked last in both points and total yards this season.


Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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 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.