Christopher Johnson

GM Notes: Colts, Ballard, Jets, Douglas, Broncos, Kelly, Texans, Khan, Jaguars, Fontenot

We’ve been passing along a ton of notes on GM interviews and searches, so we thought we’d switch things up a little bit with a couple of non-vacancy related GM items. First off, Colts GM Chris Ballard has done a great job leading Indy through some bumpy times, and it sounds like he’s about to be rewarded. The Colts intend on extending his contract, which runs through May of 2022, before training camp starts in July, owner Jim Irsay told Zak Keefer of The Athletic. Head coach Frank Reich is under contract longer so his situation isn’t as pressing, but Irsay also told Keefer that Reich isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, which obviously isn’t surprising.

Even after Josh McDaniels famously backed out of taking the head coaching job at the last minute, and even after Andrew Luck retired right before the start of last season, Ballard has done a commendable job keeping things steady and under control. He’s also made some great middle round draft picks, his blockbuster trade for DeForest Buckner has worked out really well, and his bold move to sign Philip Rivers this offseason resulted in an 11-5 record and a playoff berth. The Colts have a few question marks, but things seem well set up for the future, and Ballard will be the architect for a long time it sounds like.

Here’s more from front offices around the league:

  • The Jets fired Adam Gase this week, and when they hire a new head coach, there could be a change in the hierarchy to go with it. Recently Jets coaches and GMs have both reported directly to owners/chairman Woody and Christopher Johnson, which has led to a fair bit of drama and chaos. Now with Joe Douglas as GM, that might no longer be the case. Christopher raved about Douglas during his end of year media availability, and said “a change in structure is under consideration, no question,” meaning the new head coach may work under Douglas and report to him, Ralph Vacchiano of SNY tweets. It looks like Douglas is cementing his grip on power in the building this offseason, and the new head coach might not have as much clout within the building as guys like Gase, Todd Bowles, and Rex Ryan did.
  • Ok, now back to interviews. As soon as the Broncos announced their major shakeup yesterday with John Elway hiring a GM and giving up roster control, people highlighted Champ Kelly as a name to watch. Kelly, currently an exec with the Bears, was in Denver from 2007-14. Now the interest is official, as the team has requested an interview with him, Mike Klis of Denver 9 News tweets. It’s early in the process, but by all accounts Kelly is one of the favorites for the job. The most interesting thing to come out of this search though might be the dynamic between the new GM and Elway, who will still be lingering over the whole operation as president of football ops. It has the potential to get messy.
  • The Texans continued their search as they start from scratch in the post-Bill O’Brien era, interviewing Steelers exec Omar Khan on Monday. Khan has been in Pittsburgh in various roles since all the way back in 2001, and currently serves as their chief contract negotiator. He’s received a bit of GM buzz in the past, but not a ton.
  • Meanwhile, the Jaguars have requested to interview Saints assistant GM Terry Fontenot, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. We’ve already heard that Fontenot will interview with the Lions and Falcons, so he appears to be a hot candidate this time around. We heard yesterday that Fontenot is a “very strong” candidate for the Detroit job.

Jets’ Woody Johnson Won’t Interview Coaches

After firing Adam Gase this week, the Jets’ head coaching search is underway. However, owner Woody Johnson won’t be among those interviewing candidates, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets

[RELATED: Jets To Trade Darnold Or No. 2 Pick?]

Woody Johnson is currently rounding out his term as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom. While he ties up those loose ends, his brother and CEO Christopher Johnson will lead the search. Woody will be kept in the loop, but he won’t chat directly with the candidates.

For all of their warts, the Jets still hold appeal for candidates. Playing in the country’s largest media market, the Jets are armed with the No. 2 overall pick in the draft. Trevor Lawrence probably won’t be available, but they could still choose from prospects like Ohio State’s Justin Fields, BYU’s Zach Wilson, and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. Many believe that they will take a QB and deal Sam Darnold, but moving the No. 2 pick and keeping the USC product is also an option.

In addition to the Jets, the Lions, Falcons, Texans, Jaguars, and Chargers are also seeking a new head coach. Before the week is through, we could see more NFL teams join the list.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets CEO Christopher Johnson On Adam Gase

Jets head coach Adam Gase might not have total job security for 2021, but he doesn’t have a playoff mandate for this year. That was the message from CEO Christopher Johnson who was asked about Gase’s future this week. 

[RELATED: Jets Place Le’Veon Bell On IR]

I’m going to want to see this team progress,” Johnson said (via Manish Mehta of the Daily News). “Hopefully, that won’t be too hard from that first game, but I’m looking for real progression over this season. I’m confident that we’ll see that.”

Gase, who he referred to as a “brilliant offensive mind,” guided the Jets to a 7-9 record in his first season at the helm. On Sunday, they opened the season with a tough 27-17 loss to the rival Bills. The Jets were a “mess” in that game, Johnson confessed, but he still believes that Gang Green can win in 2020 if the team stays healthy.

Of course, this Jets team wasn’t necessarily built to win this season. The Jets sat on their cash this offseason, mostly handing out one-year deals or contracts that are light on guaranteed dollars for ’21 and beyond. The Jets ultimately whiffed on most of their top targets and declined to go deep into talks for Jaguars star edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue. Then, just before the start of the season, the Jets shipped star safety Jamal Adams to the Seahawks. To most observers, it was a matter of penny-pinching, but Johnson claims that he gave GM Joe Douglas “complete discretion” in managing the roster.

 Coming into this season, Gase had a combined 30-34 career coaching record with the Dolphins and Jets.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets Notes: Adams, Johnson, Clowney, Long

Joe Douglas confirmed the Jets had trade talks with several teams regarding Jamal Adams but categorized the sweepstakes-winning Seahawks as the most aggressive suitor. The Jets and Seahawks began talking weeks ago, and Seattle’s two-first-rounders-and-change offer swayed Douglas from planning not to trade his All-Pro safety to pulling the trigger (Twitter links via SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano). Adams lobbed salvos at Douglas and Adam Gase, and when Douglas listened to offers for the decorated defender at last year’s trade deadline, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link) Adams reached out to several Cowboys players to inform them of his interest in going to Dallas. This irked Jets teammates, coaches and team brass. While Douglas said he wanted to make Adams a Jet for life earlier this year, the second-year GM said this week he never promised him a contract, per Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News (on Twitter).

Here is the latest coming out of Jets headquarters:

  • Although the 49ers have made some big trades under their current power structure, John Lynch said they did not call the Jets about Adams, via NBC Sports Bay Area. However, ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler reported (via Twitter) involved parties believed the Cowboys and 49ers were both involved in talks with the Jets for Adams. The 49ers, who joined the Cowboys on Adams’ list of preferred destinations, re-signed Jimmie Ward this offseason and have starter Jaquiski Tartt back as well.
  • New Jets safety Bradley McDougald said Jadeveon Clowney remains interested in a deal (Twitter link). The former No. 1 overall pick expressed Jets interest in April as well. The Jets were linked to Clowney in March but, despite an apparent need for pass-rushing help, are not believed to be interested in the three-time Pro Bowler. Adams finished as Gang Green’s second-leading sacker in 2019.
  • Douglas convinced Ryan Kalil to unretire and become the Jets’ starting center last season, so reports of him being in talks with recently retired guard Kyle Long earlier this year carried a bit more weight. But Douglas said those talks were merely friends catching up. Douglas spent 2015 in the Bears’ front office prior to leaving for Philadelphia. That said, Mehta notes the two indeed discussed Long unretiring. The Jets re-signed Alex Lewis and added Greg Van Roten to a guard group that includes longtime starter Brian Winters.
  • Amid larger headlines involving current U.S. ambassador to Great Britain Woody Johnson, the Jets owner was reported by CNN to have made racist and sexist comments during his time as an ambassador. Johnson has denied the allegations, which prompted a State Department investigation. Following the report, however, acting Jets owner Christopher Johnson called almost every player on Gang Green’s roster to listen to their concerns, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com notes.

AFC East Notes: Jets, Patriots, Mayo, Bills

While it is not known when the Jets will make their GM decision, they do appear to be done interviewing candidates. The four executives the Jets spoke toJoe Douglas (Eagles), Scott Fitterer (Seahawks), Champ Kelly (Bears) and Terry Fontenot (Saints) — remain in contention, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets (video link) the team has since discussed salary expectations with the candidates. These follow-up talks occurred Tuesday night, per ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). The favorite since this process started, Douglas has not done anything to remove himself from that perch, but Fitterer has gained steam after a strong interview, Rapoport adds.

These meetings may have also been for the benefit of the candidates, with Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News tweeting multiple interviewees are concerned about the Jets’ atypical ownership situation. CEO Christopher Johnson is working in brother Woody Johnson‘s place, with the latter having accepted an ambassador position with the Trump administration. Woody Johnson will sign off on this GM pick, Mehta adds.

Here is the latest from the AFC East:

  • A Patriots contingency plan for if presumptive left tackle Isaiah Wynn is not ready: perhaps Joe Thuney sliding over one spot. The Patriots’ fourth-year left guard worked with their first-string offense at left tackle Wednesday, according to The Athletic’s Jeff Howe (subscription required). Brian Schwenke and Ted Karras have been rotating at left guard during Pats minicamp. A 2016 third-round pick, Thuney has started every game at left guard since entering the league. Wynn, a 2018 first-rounder who tore his Achilles’ tendon during camp last year, is not yet ready for team drills.
  • Bill Belichick is expected to call Patriots defensive plays this season, but the team is using minicamp to try out some other possibilities. First-year full-time assistant Jerod Mayo was calling Pats plays for a second straight day at minicamp, according to Howe. The Patriots hired their former linebacker as assistant inside ‘backers coach this offseason, and Howe adds the 33-year-old calling plays during the season is now a “serious possibility.”
  • Quinnen Williams sustained a calf injury recently and will be limited for the rest of Jets minicamp, Adam Gase said (via Mehta), calling it a scare. However, the No. 3 overall pick is expected to resume full work when the team, interestingly, holds another OTA session next week.
  • Former Buccaneers seventh-round pick Stevie Tu’ikolovatu worked out for the Bills on Wednesday, Mike Rodak of ESPN.com tweets. The former USC defensive tackle has not played since being drafted, with injuries keeping him off the field.
  • One of the Dolphins‘ 18 priority free agent signings hit the waiver wire Tuesday. The Dolphins parted ways with cornerback Tyler Horton (Boise State) via left-squad designation, veteran NFL reporter Howard Balzer notes (on Twitter).

Manning Unlikely To Consider Jets Job?

One name certainly overshadows the others thus far connected to the Jets GM job. However, the Jets may be the latest team Peyton Manning turns down.

Connected to positions with other franchises since his retirement, Manning was mentioned as a target in Gang Green’s GM search. But the future Hall of Famer is not viewed as likely to be interested in the position, Charles Robinson of Yahoo.com tweets.

Manning has been linked to jobs with multiple teams — including the Browns and Colts — but neither process seemed to advance too far. This one may not move past the interest stage, either.

The former Colts and Broncos quarterback was also believed to be a target to be part of ESPN’s post-Jason Witten Monday Night Football booth, but that did not come to fruition. Manning, 43, is working with ESPN on multiple other projects, however. Manning’s ESPN work has represented his most public role since retiring in March 2016.

However, he did advocate for Adam Gase to land the Jets’ HC job this year. If Manning were to take a GM post, working with Gase would seem like a fit on the surface. The Jets, though, have taken plenty of heat for their mid-offseason ouster of Mike Maccagnan and are run by a relatively new CEO, Christopher Johnson. Several Jets sources told the New York Daily News’ Manish Mehta they do not exactly have confidence in their current boss’ ability to run a football team.

As for the other executives connected with New York’s GM vacancy, Robinson adds the Eagles have not been contacted about an interview with VP of player personnel Joe Douglas in what’s been a “quiet” search thus far. A former Gase coworker in Chicago, Douglas has been labeled the early favorite.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets Interested In Peyton Manning For GM?

The Jets made news earlier in the week when they fired general manager Mike Maccagnan following free agency and the draft. They could make even bigger news with his replacement, as the team is reportedly interested in filling the role with Peyton Manning, Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio writes

Florio reports that “rumors are flying within league circles” that the team intends to make a run at the future Hall of Fame quarterback, who has ties to new head coach Adam Gase from their time together in Denver. Earlier in the week, Jets CEO and chairman Christopher Johnson told reporters that he wants “a great strategic thinker” for the position rather just a player evaluator.

“I want a great manager, a communicator, who can collaborate well with the building. I’m convinced we’re going to find that person,” he said.

If they want an excellent communicator and a strategic thinker, Manning would seem to be a good fit. One thing remains to be seen and that’s if Manning has any interest in the job. Long thought of for a front-office role or as a commentator on Sundays, Manning undoubtedly has had plenty of opportunities open to him if he wants to get back into the game.

If these rumors turn out to be true and the two sides work to a deal, Manning would be joining a team looking for a fresh start with a young, promising quarterback in Sam Darnold already in tow. Even with a few intriguing pieces, the Jets remain the only team in the NFL to not win at least six games in any of the last three seasons.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Jets’ Firing Of GM Mike Maccagnan

Earlier today, the Jets fired GM Mike Maccagnan. Maccagnan was known to be on the hot seat, but the timing of his dismissal was an absolute head-scratcher.

On Wednesday afternoon, team CEO Christopher Johnson took questions from local media, though he didn’t give a ton in the way of answers. Here are the highlights from Johnson’s presser and the latest on the newly created vacancy:

  • The issue of control over the 53-man roster figures to be a major issue for top candidates, Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports (on Twitter) hears. As it stands, head coach Adam Gase has final say on the roster. For what it’s worth, Gase reportedly wants the Jets to hire Eagles exec Joe Douglas, so he could conceivably be willing to cede control in order to bring his old Bears buddy on board.
  • Meanwhile, Johnson says Gase will remain in charge of the 53-man roster (Twitter link via Brian Costello of the New York Post).
  • Johnson did his best to downplay talk of a serious rift between Gase and Maccagnan. “I think there was very good synergy (between Maccagnan and Gase), but it was not everything that I was hoping for. I made the decision I want to find a better fit for this building,” Johnson said (Twitter link via SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano).
  • The CEO said he made the decision to fire Maccagnan “in the last few days,” (Twitter link via Manish Mehta of the Daily News). He then added: “I’m not going to get into a lot of specifics about why we’re moving on from Mike.
  • Johnson said he’s looking for more of a “strategic thinker” with the new Jets GM and “someone who could collaborate with the building,” (Twitter link via Vacchiano).

Changes Coming To Jets Front Office?

Many in the league expect changes in the Jets front office after the draft, Mike Lombardi of The Athletic hears. Lombardi notes that GM Mike Maccagnan is on the hot seat, which could lead to a shakeup in the scouting department. It’s not immediately clear whether Maccagnan himself could be in jeopardy after the draft wraps up, though it would be a shock if the GM were to get the axe before the start of the season.

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Rich Cimini echoes other reports of friction between Maccagnan and new head coach Adam Gase. Specifically, Cimini says the two had disagreement over free agency strategy, with CEO Christopher Johnson visiting team facilities to “observe the dynamic between the coach and general manager.” Predictably, the GM downplayed the friction between the two.

“Actually, I think Adam and I have worked very well together,” said Maccagnan. “I’m sure, like in any process, there are times where … you know, you work through the process.

“It’s just like in a scouting meeting. You might have different opinions on a player. But, from my standpoint, I’ve actually had a very good working relationship with Adam. Quite frankly, as I’ve said before, he has a very good sense of humor. He makes me laugh quite a bit, which is one of the reasons why I like working with him.”

While some pundits ran with Lombardi’s story and assumed that Maccagnan’s job was in jeopardy, Cimini says “from all indications, the Jets have no plans to make a change.” The general manager naturally wouldn’t discuss his job security, noting that his focus is on the draft.

“I don’t think I’m really going to sit here and comment about my job,” Maccagnan said. “I’m focused on the draft. I feel good about the situation we’re in. I feel very good about working with Adam going forward.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC East Notes: Dolphins, Patriots, Jets

Having ended their veteran quarterback search with a Ryan Fitzpatrick agreement, after pursuing Teddy Bridgewater and Tyrod Taylor, the Dolphins continue to embark on a rebuilding track. In fact, the word “tanking” came up during one of the team’s head coach interviews, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald notes. Chris Grier, as could be expected, denied the team will use 2019 to tank.

Often one of the most active teams during free agency, the Dolphins this year have parted ways with starters Ryan Tannehill, Josh Sitton, Ted Larsen, Andre Branch and Danny Amendola. They let Ja’Wuan James and Cameron Wake walk. This leads Salguero to the notion the Dolphins are indeed tanking with the prospect of being in best position to land a high 2020 draft pick and have cap space when that league year begins. As of now, early projections have the Dolphins at $107MM in 2020 cap space — second in the league behind the Cowboys. And with Dallas set to extend several young talents, Miami looks poised to lead that pack. Fitzpatrick has made at least eight starts in a season nine times; his teams finished with a winning record in one of those seasons. Sunday’s move lends further credence the Dolphins are targeting the 2020 quarterback class.

Here is the latest from the AFC East:

  • Rob Gronkowski has not given the Patriots his decision on if he will continue his career in 2019, but if the future Hall of Famer wants an extension, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe notes this cannot happen until August 30 — a year after his previous contract adjustment, per an NFL rule. Long dissatisfied with a contract he agreed to in 2012, Gronkowski would be entering the final year of that deal if he returned for 2019. The Patriots could approach Gronk about a pay cut, however, at any point this offseason, per Volin. Gronkowski is due a $10MM salary and to count $11.86MM on the Patriots’ cap. The latest word on Gronk’s status is a return for a 10th season is more likely than a retirement.
  • Conversely, a Tom Brady extension can happen at any point this offseason. Since the Patriots did not adjust their quarterback’s cap number via the unmet incentives last year, Volin notes they can extend his contract before the 12-month mark from when the team included those incentives. Brady’s deal appears likely to be adjusted, with the 41-year-old passer’s contract-year cap figure sitting at $27MM.
  • Dialogue about the trade that moved the Jets up to last year’s No. 3 overall pick began at the 2018 Senior Bowl, with Jets VP of player personnel Brian Heimerdinger approaching Colts assistant GM Ed Dodds that January about a possible trade, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com notes. Christopher Johnson emphasized the Jets focus on quarterback scouting in 2017, primarily Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen. The Jets targeted No. 3 overall because their sources indicated to them the Giants were zeroing in on Saquon Barkley, Cimini adds. Gang Green put its plan B into action a year ago today after Kirk Cousins spurned them.
  • The Dolphins are interested in acquiring a fullback, which marks a change from recent years. Specifically, they are exploring the addition of Michael Burton, per Salguero. Burton was Pro Football Focus’ No. 2-rated fullback last season but only played 49 snaps, not enough to qualify for full-time status. Only five fullbacks did meet those standards, illustrating this position’s scarcity on most teams. If not Burton, a four-year veteran who has played in Detroit and Chicago, Miami may target another UFA blocking back.
  • Prior to LaAdrian Waddle signing with the Bills, the Patriots conveyed interest in bringing him back, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com notes. The Pats kept an open dialogue with their swing tackle but were not willing to match the Bills’ offer, Reiss adds.