Cowboys Rumors

Examining Statuses Of 2023 RB Franchise Tag Recipients

One of the key talking points during the 2023 offseason was the continued downward slide of the running back market. High-profile players at the position met to discuss the matter, but to little surprise those efforts did not yield a firm plan for the future.

Three backs were hit with the franchise tag last spring: Saquon Barkley (Giants), Josh Jacobs (Raiders) and Tony Pollard (Cowboys). The latter quickly decided to sign his one-year tender, but the other two took until well past the deadline for extensions to be worked out for their immediate futures to become clear. Both Barkley, and later Jacobs, agreed to one-year pacts worth a higher maximum value than those of the tags. Now, all three face the prospect of a second tag or – far more likely – a trip to free agency.

With the RB market set to feature a longer list of names in 2024 than it did last offseason, teams will have a number of experienced options to choose from. An evaluation of each ’23 tag recipient’s performance this past year will no doubt be a key factor in determining the value for Barkley, Jacobs and Pollard. Here is a side-by-side look at each back’s production in 2022 compared to their totals while playing on the tag (or one-year equivalent):

Saquon Barkley (Age in Week 1: 27)

2022 (16 games): 18.4 carries per game, 1,312 yards, 10 touchdowns (57-338 receiving statline)
2023 (14 games): 17.6 carries per game, 962 yards, six touchdowns (41-280-4 receiving)

The Giants ran up against the 2023 tag deadline needing to find a way forward with both Barkley and quarterback Daniel Jones. The four-year, $160MM commitment made to the latter allowed the tag to be used on the former, despite his track record as the focal point of New York’s offense when healthy. Barkley missed time in 2023 due to an ankle injury, and the Giants underperformed with and without him during a forgettable campaign. Still, New York’s offense will be lacking in playmakers even if Barkley is retained for 2024.

A trip to free agency is now expected, though, something the former No. 2 pick has publicly welcomed. No doors have been shut with respect to a Giants agreement being reached, but few circumstances (if any) have tangibly changed compared to last year. New York made a series of offers with an inversely proportional relationship between AAV and guaranteed figures during last offseason’s negotiations and a different approach this time around would come as a surprise.

Barkley out-rushed backup Matt Breida by 811 yards, so his departure would create a massive void at the RB spot. The Giants are likely to use the No. 6 pick in April’s draft on a much-needed offensive playmaker or a Jones successor, and either move will help their outlook in the passing game. The ground attack would face serious questions without Barkley in the fold or an impactful replacement, although one could be acquired in a more cost-effective manner through the draft or a short-term veteran addition. Barkley’s pedigree could make him the most attractive free agent running back option in 2024, and it would be interesting to see how willing New York would be to win a bidding war.

Josh Jacobs (Age in Week 1: 26)

2022 (17 games): 20 carries per game, 1,653 yards, 12 touchdowns (53-400 receiving)
2023 (13 games): 17.9 carries per game, 805 yards, six touchdowns (37-296 receiving)

Jacobs led the NFL in touches during the only full season with Josh McDaniels at the helm. That resulted in league-leading rushing and scrimmage yard totals, but the Alabama product saw a downturn in usage on the ground and in the air when on the field in 2023. His missed the final four games of the campaign, a span during which McDaniels’ replacement (Antonio Pierce) helped his case to have the interim head coach label removed.

Pierce is indeed in place on a full-time basis, something Jacobs and a number of other players endorsed. Vegas is willing to explore a deal with the two-time Pro Bowler, but the price point will be worth watching with respect to new general manager Tom Telesco. The latter was in charge of a Chargers regime which allowed Austin Ekeler to seek out a trade in lieu of extending him. Ekeler joined Barkley and Jacobs in agreeing to a re-worked pact last offseason which has him in line for free agency this March. Telesco could be inclined to repeat his aversion to a long-term RB commitment in Jacobs’ case.

The Raiders have a potential Jacobs replacement in the form of Zamir White. The 2022 fourth-rounder averaged 4.1 yards per carry this season, and he eclipsed 100 rushing yards in two of the four games Jacobs missed to finish the campaign. White has two years remaining on his rookie contract, so placing him atop the depth chart and drafting another member of the backfield would be a more cost-effective direction to take. Vegas is expected to pursue a quarterback addition, something which could require cap resources otherwise available to Jacobs if it takes the form of a free agent signing or trade acquisition.

Tony Pollard (Age in Week 1: 27)

2022 (16 games): 12.2 carries per game, 1,007 yards, nine touchdowns (39-371-3 receiving)
2023 (17 games): 14.8 carries per game, 1,005 yards, six touchdowns (55-311 receiving)

As expected, the Cowboys moved on from Ezekiel Elliott once no guaranteed salary remained on his deal. That paved the way for Pollard to take on an undisputed No. 1 role in 2023, as showcased by his increased touches. The Memphis alum’s efficiency suffered a notable drop, though; his 4.0 yards per carry in 2023 represented the lowest of his career. With questions in place regarding Pollard’s production as a full-time starter, a lucrative deal would increase expectations in his production further while complicating an already unenviable cap situation.

Dallas’ offseason will be defined in large part by the team’s ability to work out a Dak Prescott extension. The veteran quarterback possess extraordinary leverage in advance of negotiations on a pact both sides are eager to hammer out. The Cowboys will likely also need to prepare market-setting extensions for wideout CeeDee Lamb and edge rusher Micah Parsons over the next two years, and re-signing Pollard would hinder those efforts. Allowing him to depart would create a major vacancy in the backfield, though.

Pollard and second-leading rusher Rico Dowdle (361 yards) are both pending free agents. The leading Cowboys rusher amongst RBs who are under contract for next season is Deuce Vaughn, who received only 23 carries as a rookie. Pollard has considerably more tread left on his tires than Barkley, Jacobs and a number of other free agent backs due to his time as Elliott’s backup. That (coupled with the lack of an obvious successor) could help his value and his effort to secure longer term on his next contact, albeit something which will come off the back of a relatively underwhelming year. At any rate, a tag for Pollard or any other Cowboy would come as a surprise.

The 2023 franchise tag cost $10.1MM at the running back position. In the case of Pollard and Barkley (whose one-year deal contained incentives paired with an identical base value), a second tag would cost $12.1MM. For Jacobs – who landed a slightly higher salary on his contract – a 2024 tag would check in at a price of $13.67MM.

Considering the performances of each member of the trio, their respective teams could aim to take another route this offseason and likely save considerable cap space in the process. Given the nature of their statistical showings, hesitancy on the part of interested teams with respect to a new agreement after another season of wear and tear would also be understandable. Further hurting the market for Barkley, Jacobs and Pollard is the depth of other veteran rushers set to be available.

Ekeler, along with two-time rushing champion Derrick Henry, is a pending free agent. The same is also true of 25-year-olds J.K. Dobbins and D’Andre Swift, who have each played out their rookie contracts and could profile as having higher upside given their age. While this year’s draft class is not viewed as having a plethora of impact prospects, recent history has shown teams can find production after Day 1 when looking to avoid expensive commitments at the position. For Barkley, Jacobs and Pollard, those factors will likely make it a challenge to secure multiple years of guaranteed money on their next pacts, regardless of where they come from.

Cowboys Unlikely To Use Franchise Tag In 2024

The Cowboys are among the teams which have made frequent usage of the franchise tag in recent years. DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak PrescottDalton Schultz and Tony Pollard have each played at least one season on the one-year tender in a streak dating back to 2018. That is likely to end in 2024, however.

David Moore of the Dallas Morning News reports the Cowboys are not expected to apply the tag during the current window. Pollard was an obvious tag candidate last offseason, one in which the team moved on from fellow running back Ezekiel Elliott. That move freed up an undisputed No. 1 role for Pollard, who quickly signed his tenure and earned $10.1MM during the season.

The former fourth-rounder received an increased workload in 2023, but his efficiency saw a notable decline. As a result, it would come as a surprise if Dallas elected to tag him again at a cost of roughly $12.1MM. A deal checking in at a lower rate to keep Pollard in the fold would be far more beneficial to the Cowboys’ salary cap situation, something which will be worth watching over the coming weeks.

Prescott is in need of either a restructure or an extension given the $59.5MM cap hit he is slated to carry in 2024. Dallas also has a number of pending free agents, including left tackle Tyron Smith and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who could use up needed cap resources if retained. Both veterans have expressed a desire to re-sign with the Cowboys, who will also have top-of-the-market extensions for wideout CeeDee Lamb and edge rusher Micah Parsons to budget for in the near future.

Lawrence and Prescott each wound up agreeing to long-term deals after playing on the tag, while Shultz departed in free agency last offseason. Pollard’s future will be worth monitoring if he does indeed reach the open market. The franchise tag window runs through March 5, but Dallas should not be expected to be active on that front in a departure from recent history.

Tyron Smith Wants To Remain With Cowboys

Tyron Smith has been a mainstay on the Cowboys’ offensive line since 2011. His time with the franchise is in danger of coming to an end this spring, but that will not be the case if he has his way.

Smith is aiming to play one more season as a Cowboy, Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News reports. The 33-year-old is a pending free agent (although the restructured pact he agreed to last March will leave the team with a $6MM dead cap charge in 2024 even if he departs). Smith’s desire to remain in place will lead to an interesting decision on the team’s part given his injury history.

The 2010s All-Decade member has not played a full season since 2015. A number of ailments have led to missed time since then, including those which limited him to a combined total of six games in 2020 and ’22. Smith rebounded this past year by seeing the field for 13 games, all of which came at his familiar left tackle spot. That came after offseason indications pointed to the eight-time Pro Bowler remaining at right tackle, where he played upon his return to the lineup in 2022.

Dallas used a first-round pick on Tyler Smith in 2022 with the intention of using him at guard before succeeding Tyron Smith on the blindside. The latter’s torn hamstring accelerated that plan, but his return to pre-injury form in 2023 allowed Tyler Smith to slide back inside. Tyron Smith graded out as PFF’s fourth-best offensive tackle last season, in large part due to a league-best mark of 89.3 in pass protection.

Given his performance, the two-time All-Pro could be a logical candidate for a much shorter pact that the eight-year one he inked in 2014. On the other hand, the Cowboys need to prepare a plan to transition to younger options with respect to Smith and right guard Zack Martin. The latter is under contract for one more year with a guaranteed salary of $18MM and a $28.5MM cap hit. Dallas also has starting center Tyler Biadasz set to hit free agency, so retaining him would use up resources which could otherwise be given to Smith. With the Cowboys or another team, the latter nevertheless intends to play in 2024.

NFC East Notes: Commanders, QBs, Bieniemy, Cowboys, Smith, Saban, Giants

The Commanders centered their 2023 offseason on Sam Howell, who had played all of one game as a rookie. While the second-year passer showed some encouraging signs, the team was prepared to bench him for Jacoby Brissett late in the season. Howell did become the first Washington quarterback to go wire to wire as the starter since Kirk Cousins in 2017, but the team lost eight straight games to end the season. It remains likely the Commanders draft a QB at No. 2 overall rather than turn to Howell and perhaps another Brissett-level vet as competition, ESPN.com’s John Keim writes.

Washington held the No. 2 overall pick in 2020 but had just taken Dwayne Haskins in the 2019 first round. This effectively took them out of the Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert sweepstakes, joining the Giants (who had chosen Daniel Jones in 2019) in that regard. Washington then took Chase Young. Timing was an issue for the team then, but Howell’s presence — especially with a new owner, HC and football ops boss in town — is unlikely to represent a sufficient deterrent to impede a QB investment this year. Two years remain on Howell’s rookie contract.

Here is the latest from the NFC East:

  • With the Commanders being the seventh team to hire a head coach, and not doing so until Feb. 1, Eric Bieniemy received confirmation he was out late during this year’s hiring period. The one-and-done Commanders OC signed a multiyear deal in 2023, and ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler notes the former HC interview mainstay could well take a year off — as money will continue to come in from Washington — and regroup for a 2025 return to the sideline. Bieniemy, 54, may be off the HC radar; but the longtime Chiefs assistant could well resurface as an OC candidate — particularly given this position’s turnover rate in recent years — in 2025. The possibility the Chiefs bring him back, as they did Matt Nagy, also should not be discounted.
  • Over the past decade and change, the Cowboys have generally done well in the first round. They have landed a number of All-Pros — from Tyron Smith to Travis Frederick to Zack Martin to CeeDee Lamb to Micah Parsons — and a few other regular starters. Mazi Smith‘s trajectory is less certain to produce an impact player. Last year’s No. 26 overall pick played 304 defensive snaps as a rookie and logged only four in Dallas’ wild-card loss. Pro Football Focus rated the Michigan alum as one of the worst D-tackle regulars last season. The Cowboys were displeased Smith dropped around 20 pounds from his Combine weight (323) at points last season, per the Dallas Morning News’ Michael Gehlken. Drafted as a player who could potentially anchor the Cowboys’ interior D-line, Smith has work to do. The Cowboys also have starter Johnathan Hankins due for free agency in a few weeks.
  • This can be field in the “what if?” department, but as the Giants interviewed Louis Riddick for their GM job — during the cycle that produced the Dave Gettleman hire — the ESPN talent/ex-NFL exec said (h/t Empire Sports Media’s Anthony Rivardo) he reached out to Nick Saban to gauge his interest in becoming the team’s head coach. The Giants interviewed Riddick in December 2017; the ex-Monday Night Football analyst had been up for a few GM jobs around that point. Riddick was also a defensive back during Saban’s tenure under Bill Belichick in Cleveland in the early 1990s. (Saban was the Browns’ DC from 1991-94.) The Alabama icon, who retired last month, was loosely connected to the Giants’ coaching job during the cycle that produced the Ben McAdoo promotion. Saban, who coached the Dolphins for two years (2005-06) before leaving for Tuscaloosa, was not interested in the Giants’ job during the cycle that ended with the Pat Shurmur hire in 2018.

Cowboys To Add Paul Guenther, Jeff Zgonina, Greg Ellis To Staff

Mike Zimmer is bringing in some familiar faces to work on his first Cowboys defensive staff. Former Zimmer assistants and at least one of his former players in Dallas will be part of the group.

Part of Zimmer staffs in Cincinnati and Minnesota, former DC Paul Guenther will have another chance in the league. The Cowboys are hiring Guenther to be their run-game coordinator on defense, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Clarence Hill. Dallas will also bring in veteran assistant Jeff Zgonina to coach its defensive line, the Washington Post’s Nicki Jhabvala tweets; Zgonina will replace Aden Durde, who agreed to leave for the Seattle DC job last week.

Former Cowboys pass rusher Greg Ellis will also make a major leap in the coaching ranks. Serving as the head coach of a Texas-based NAIA school last season, Ellis will join Guenther and Zgonina in his old stomping grounds. Zimmer is bringing the former Cowboys sack artist aboard as his assistant D-line coach, Hill adds.

Guenther, 52, coached alongside Zimmer with the Bengals and eventually succeeded him as Cincinnati’s DC under Marvin Lewis. Finishing his Cincy run with Zimmer as the team’s linebackers coach, Guenther linked up with his former boss in Minnesota in 2021; the Vikings brought him in as a senior defensive assistant during what turned out to be Zimmer’s final year running the show in the Twin Cities. Guenther, who served as the Raiders’ DC from 2018-20, has not been in the NFL since that Vikings one-off.

After a 17-year career as a D-lineman, Zgonina has been a regular assistant around the NFL. While Dan Quinn has poached multiple Cowboys assistants — including Joe Whitt as DC — Dallas will hire Zgonina after a Washington stay. Zgonina, 53, has worked with the Texans, Giants, 49ers and Commanders over the past 11 years. He served as D-line coach in San Francisco and Washington, holding that job on Ron Rivera‘s staff over the past two years. The Commanders effectively cut Zgonina’s legs out from under him at the trade deadline, moving Montez Sweat and Chase Young off the roster. Both contract-year players were off to strong starts before being dealt.

Ellis, 48, will make the most interesting move. He served as head coach at Southwestern Assemblies of God University from 2022-23, going 11-10 in that time. Ellis resigned his post in November; he previously served as head coach at another NAIA school (Texas College). Ellis has also devoted time to the theater since retiring from the NFL, directing multiple plays and founding a multimedia company. This will represent a key step for the former Cowboys defensive end, who spent most of his time in Dallas playing under Zimmer.

The Cowboys drafted Ellis eighth overall in 1998, and he became a regular starter for the next decade. The team gave Ellis a six-year extension in 2003; the North Carolina alum registered 77 sacks as a Cowboy from 1998-2008, making the Pro Bowl and earning Comeback Player of the Year acclaim in 2007. Ellis tallied a career-high 12.5 sacks that season.

Additionally, the Cowboys reached an agreement to retain wide receivers coach Robert Prince, Todd Archer of ESPN.com tweets. Prince has been with the Cowboys for the past two seasons, overseeing the development of CeeDee Lamb in the wake of the Amari Cooper trade.

Cowboys Targeted Former Head Coach For DC Role; Mike Zimmer Received Other Offers

In place on the Cowboys’ coaching staff for 13 years, Mike Zimmer was a valued assistant in Dallas over a few HC regimes. The former Vikings leader will join a staff that resides on unstable ground, but familiarity drew the veteran back to Texas.

Zimmer is joining a coaching staff that centers around one of his longtime NFC North rivals. He and Mike McCarthy coached against each other for five seasons while tied to the Vikings and Packers. McCarthy will call on Zimmer to help save his job. Although the Cowboys were believed to want to promote Joe Whitt and interviewed D-line coach Aden Durde, it appears their qualifications did not meet McCarthy’s target. Expected to go into the 2024 season a lame duck, McCarthy said he prioritized a defensive coordinator with HC experience.

[RELATED: Giants Block Cowboys From Andre Patterson Interview]

I think the importance of the leadership role on defense, outside of scheme, calling games and coaching players, there is so much more that goes on as far as an assistant coaches,” McCarthy said, via ESPN.com’s Todd Archer. “I think it’s important. Mike’s had experience and success he’s had at every level is what makes this a great fit.

The Cowboys’ interview list matches up with this preference. The team met with Ron Rivera and Rex Ryan, with the latter drawing some 11th-hour buzz during the process. Zimmer’s deal took a few days to finalize, but he had emerged as the frontrunner. The eight-year Minnesota coach becomes the second former HC McCarthy has hired to run his defense in Dallas, following Dan Quinn. McCarthy went in this direction with two of his DC hires in Green Bay as well, bringing in Dom Capers (2009) and Mike Pettine (2018).

Zimmer, 67, was only connected to the Cowboys this offseason and only mentioned as interviewing with the Broncos in 2023. The longtime NFL staffer, however, said (via Archer) he had options to return to the league since the Vikings fired him in January 2022. Zimmer chose the Cowboys due to trust. Considering how long his first Dallas tenure lasted, it is unsurprising he holds the organization in high regard.

Debuting as an NFL assistant on Barry Switzer‘s first staff back in 1994, Zimmer stayed on through the Chan Gailey, Dave Campo and Bill Parcells regimes. Parcells went as far to leave Zimmer — promoted to defensive coordinator under Campo — in place as his DC throughout his four-year tenure, which ended in 2006. Zimmer left to become Bobby Petrino‘s defensive coordinator in 2007, landing his launching-pad role as Bengals DC following Petrino’s quick Atlanta exit. After the Vikings stay, Zimmer helped ex-Cowboys charge Deion Sanders out at both Jackson State and Colorado. This will be Zimmer’s fourth NFL DC gig.

Unlike Quinn, Zimmer probably will not be a candidate to become a head coach again. As Steve Spagnuolo has shown in Kansas City and as Wade Phillips demonstrated in Denver and Los Angeles, value can come from hiring an accomplished coordinator who is not a true HC candidate. McCarthy will bet on Zimmer to help keep Dallas’ defense among the NFL’s best. Although the bar will be higher for the fifth-year Cowboys HC, given what he has already accomplished in Dallas, Zimmer rolling out a strong defense would certainly help McCarthy’s cause.

Assessing NFL’s OC Landscape

This offseason showed the turnover that can take place at the offensive coordinator position. As a result of several decisions in January and February, the NFL no longer has an OC who has been in his current role for more than two seasons. Various firings and defections now have the 2022 batch of hires stationed as the longest-tenured OCs.

One of the longest-tenured coordinators in NFL history, Pete Carmichael is no longer with the Saints. The team moved on after 15 seasons, a stay that featured part-time play-calling duties. The Browns canned their four-year non-play-calling OC, Alex Van Pelt, while three-year play-callers Arthur Smith and Shane Waldron are relocating this winter. Brian Callahan‘s five-year gig as the Bengals’ non-play-calling OC booked him a top job.

The recent lean toward offense-oriented HCs took a bit of a hit of a hit this offseason, with five of the eight jobs going to defense-oriented leaders. Callahan, Dave Canales and Jim Harbaugh were the only offense-geared candidates hired during this cycle. But half the NFL will go into this season with a new OC. Following the Seahawks’ decision to hire ex-Washington (and, briefly, Alabama) staffer Ryan Grubb, here is how the NFL’s OC landscape looks:

2022 OC hires

  • Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions*
  • Mike Kafka, New York Giants*
  • Wes Phillips, Minnesota Vikings
  • Frank Smith, Miami Dolphins
  • Adam Stenavich, Green Bay Packers
  • Press Taylor, Jacksonville Jaguars*

Although this sextet now comprises the senior wing of offensive coordinators, this still marks each’s first gig as an NFL OC. Three of the six received HC interest this offseason.

Johnson’s status back in Detroit has been one of the offseason’s top storylines and a development the Commanders have not taken especially well. The two-year Lions OC was viewed as the frontrunner for the Washington job for weeks this offseason, and when team brass did not receive word about Johnson’s intent to stay in Detroit (thus, waiting until at least 2025 to make his long-expected HC move) until a Commanders contingent was en route to Detroit for a second interview, a back-and-forth about what exactly broke down took place. Johnson should be expected to remain a high-end HC candidate next year, but Dan Campbell will still have his services for 2024.

Kafka interviewed for the Seahawks’ HC job, and the Giants then blocked him from meeting with the NFC West team about its OC position. Rumblings about Kafka and Brian Daboll no longer being on great terms surfaced this year, with the latter yanking away play-calling duties — given to Kafka ahead of the 2022 season — at points in 2023. Taylor may also be on the hot seat with his team. Doug Pederson gave Taylor the call sheet last season, and Trevor Lawrence did not make the leap many expected. After a collapse left the Jaguars out of the playoffs, the team had begun to look into its offensive situation.

2023 OC hires

  • Jim Bob Cooter, Indianapolis Colts
  • Nathaniel Hackett, New York Jets*
  • Mike LaFleur, Los Angeles Rams
  • Joe Lombardi, Denver Broncos
  • Todd Monken, Baltimore Ravens*
  • Matt Nagy, Kansas City Chiefs
  • Drew Petzing, Arizona Cardinals*
  • Brian Schottenheimer, Dallas Cowboys
  • Bobby Slowik, Houston Texans*

Only nine of the 15 OCs hired in 2023 are still with their teams. One (Canales) moved up the ladder, while others were shown the door following that organization canning its head coach. The Eagles were the only team who hired an offensive coordinator last year to fire that staffer (Brian Johnson) after one season. Nick Sirianni fired both his coordinators following a wildly disappointing conclusion.

Hackett may also be drifting into deep water, given what transpired last year in New York. Rumblings of Robert Saleh — who is on the hottest seat among HCs — stripping some of his offensive play-caller’s responsibilities surfaced recently. This marks Hackett’s fourth chance to call plays in the NFL; the second-generation staffer did so for the Bills, Jaguars and Broncos prior to coming to New York. After the 2022 Broncos ranked last in scoring, the ’23 Jets ranked 31st in total offense. Hackett’s relationship with Aaron Rodgers has largely kept him in place, but 2024 may represent a last chance for the embattled coach.

Of this crop, Monken and Slowik were the only ones to receive HC interest. Neither emerged as a frontrunner for a position, though Slowik met with the Commanders twice. The Texans then gave their first-time play-caller a raise to stick around for C.J. Stroud‘s second season. Stroud’s remarkable progress figures to keep Slowik on the HC radar. Monken, who is in his third try as an NFL OC (after gigs in Tampa and Cleveland), just helped Lamar Jackson to his second MVP award. The former national championship-winning OC did not stick the landing — as Jackson struggled against the Chiefs — but he fared well on the whole last season.

Schottenheimer is on his fourth go-round as an OC, while Lombardi is on team No. 3. The latter’s job figures to be more secure, being tied to Sean Payton, compared to what is transpiring in Dallas. With the Cowboys having Mike McCarthy as the rare lame-duck HC, his coordinators probably should not get too comfortable.

2024 OC hires

  • Joe Brady, Buffalo Bills*
  • Liam Coen, Tampa Bay Buccaneers*
  • Ken Dorsey, Cleveland Browns
  • Luke Getsy, Las Vegas Raiders*
  • Ryan Grubb, Seattle Seahawks*
  • Nick Holz, Tennessee Titans
  • Kliff Kingsbury, Washington Commanders*
  • Klint Kubiak, New Orleans Saints*
  • Brad Idzik, Carolina Panthers
  • Kellen Moore, Philadelphia Eagles*
  • Dan Pitcher, Cincinnati Bengals
  • Zac Robinson, Atlanta Falcons*
  • Greg Roman, Los Angeles Chargers*
  • Arthur Smith, Pittsburgh Steelers*
  • Alex Van Pelt, New England Patriots*
  • Shane Waldron, Chicago Bears*

The 49ers do not employ a traditional OC; 16 of the 31 teams that do recently made a change. Most of the teams to add OCs this year, however, did so without employing play-calling coaches. This naturally raises the stakes for this year’s batch of hires.

Retreads became rather popular. Dorsey, Getsy, Moore, Van Pelt and Waldron were all OCs elsewhere (Buffalo, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Seattle) last season. Smith will shift from calling the Falcons’ plays to running the show for the Steelers. Dorsey, Getsy and Van Pelt were fired; Moore and Waldron moved on after the Chargers and Seahawks respectively changed HCs. Moore and Smith will be calling plays for a third team; for Moore, this is three OC jobs in three years.

Coen, Kingsbury and Roman are back after a year away. Kingsbury became a popular name on the OC carousel, having coached Caleb Williams last season. This will be his second crack at an NFL play-calling gig, having been the Cardinals’ conductor throughout his HC tenure. This will be Coen’s first shot at calling plays in the pros; he was Sean McVay‘s non-play-calling assistant in 2022. Likely to become the Chargers’ play-caller, Roman will have a rare fourth chance to call plays in the NFL. He held that responsibility under Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco; following Harbaugh’s explosive 2015 49ers split, Roman moved to Buffalo and Baltimore to work under non-offense-oriented leaders.

Grubb, Holz, Idzik, Pitcher and Robinson represent this year’s first-timer contingent. Grubb has, however, called plays at the college level. Robinson is the latest McVay staffer to move into a play-calling post; he was a Rams assistant for five years. A host of teams had Robinson on their OC radar, but Raheem Morris brought his former L.A. coworker to Atlanta. Pitcher appeared in a few searches as well, but the Bengals made the expected move — after extending him last year — to give him Callahan’s old job.

* = denotes play-calling coordinator

Commanders To Hire Anthony Lynn, Sharrif Floyd; Team To Retain Bobby Engram

Dan Quinn continues to add high-profile names to his Commanders staff. The latest comes after a background with new football ops president Adam Peters.

Anthony Lynn will join Peters in making a San Francisco-to-Washington trek. The 49ers assistant head coach will join the Commanders as the team’s run-game coordinator, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. The Commanders pursued the former Chargers HC last year, interviewing him for their OC job, but went with Eric Bieniemy. Despite an ownership change and staff overhaul, Schefter notes Lynn is close with Peters and Quinn. This certainly makes sense as the veteran coach’s next landing spot.

In addition to Lynn, Washington will bring ex-Quinn assistant Sharrif Floyd over from Dallas. Floyd will join the Commanders as their assistant defensive line coach, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport tweets. The former Vikings first-round pick was in place as a Cowboys assistant under Quinn last season. Despite new Cowboys DC Mike Zimmer having coached Floyd in Minnesota, the latter is following Quinn to Washington.

The Commanders, however, will not let their wide receivers coach go. Bobby Engram will stay in that role, per the Washington Post’s Nicki Jhabvala. The former NFL wideout joined Washington’s coaching staff last year. Although Engram was a Ron Rivera addition, he will stay on under Quinn. Outside interest in the veteran assistant emerged, Jhabvala adds.

Lynn, 55, made the most to San Francisco after washing out as Lions OC. Dan Campbell booted Lynn after one season, having taken play-calling duties away. The longtime running backs coach has since played a role in boosting the 49ers’ ground attack. The 49ers hired Lynn to aid their run game, and he received an unexpected personnel boost midway through the 2022 season (via the Christian McCaffrey trade). As a result, San Francisco’s ground attack has enjoyed dominant stretches.

This will be Lynn and Quinn’s first time on the same staff; Peters was with the 49ers for both of Lynn’s seasons in the Bay Area. Lynn, who has been an NFL coach since 2000, went 33-31 as Chargers HC from 2017-20. Lynn joins Kliff Kingsbury as former head coaches on Quinn’s Commanders staff.

Engram, 51, broke into coaching just after his lengthy playing career wrapped. He joins Lynn in having never coached with Quinn. Prior to coming to Washington in 2023, Engram served as Wisconsin’s OC. He was on John Harbaugh‘s Ravens staff from 2014-21, however. Floyd served as the Cowboys’ assistant D-line coach last season. He will follow DC Joe Whitt to Washington.

The Commanders are also hiring Tom Donatell as their defensive backs coach, The Athletic’s Ben Standig tweets. The son of veteran DC Ed Donatell, Tom spent the past three seasons with the Chargers. The Bolts promoted Tom Donatell to defensive pass-game coordinator last year. Quinn and Ed Donatell worked together with the Jets back in the 2000s. The team is also hiring David Raih as its tight ends coach, Schefter adds. Raih worked as the Cardinals’ wide receivers coach under Kingsbury from 2019-20, becoming Vanderbilt’s OC in 2021. He spent last season on the Buccaneers’ staff.

Giants Block Cowboys’ Interview Request With Andre Patterson

The Giants have denied their defensive line coach an opportunity to interview with a division rival. Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Giants denied the Cowboys’ request to interview defensive line coach Andre Patterson. The Cowboys were presumably looking to hire Patterson for the same role, and the Giants rejected the potential lateral move.

[RELATED: Cowboys To Hire Mike Zimmer As DC]

It’s not a huge surprise that new Cowboys defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer tried to recruit Patterson to Dallas. The coaches worked alongside each other with the Vikings, where Patterson climbed his way up from defensive line coach to co-defensive coordinator. As ESPN’s Jordan Raanan points out, Zimmer and Patterson have a strong relationship, and the Cowboys wouldn’t have reached out unless the current Giants coach was at least entertaining the idea of a move.

On the flip side, there wouldn’t be much incentive for the Giants letting a respected coach walk to a division rival. Patterson has spent the past two seasons in New York, and despite an overhaul of the defensive coaching staff this offseason, the veteran coach was one of the few to stick around. In fact, the Giants made it clear to potential defensive coordinator candidates that they intended to keep Patterson on their next defensive staff (per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post). During his time in New York, the DL coach has been credited with guiding Dexter Lawrence to two All-Pro nods.

Patterson has been coaching since the ’80s, spending time in both the NFL and college football. He often held the title of defensive line coach, including a three-year stint with the Cowboys in the early 2000s. Zimmer coaxed him out of the NCAA back in 2014, and Patterson has spent nearly the past decade coaching in the NFL.

As Art Stapleton of USA Today points out, the move could also be a bit of payback from the Giants organization. When Zimmer was in Minnesota, he denied the Giants’ request to interview Kevin Stefanski for an offensive coordinator job despite already having an offensive coordinator of his own (John DeFilippo).

Cowboys To Hire Mike Zimmer As DC

FEBRUARY 12: Despite it being learned over the past two days that Ryan was still in the running for the job, the Cowboys have indeed gone with Zimmer for their DC post. The parties reached agreement on Monday, Pelissero reports. Zimmer will thus make his return to where his NFL coaching career began, and take on his first pro position since 2021. Ryan, meanwhile, is poised to spend another year out of the coaching ranks.

FEBRUARY 11: Gehlken reports the Cowboys-Zimmer agreement has still not been finalized, something echoed by Ryan on ESPN’s NFL Countdown (video link). The latter said he contacted head coach Mike McCarthy about the Dallas DC vacancy, which set up his interview with the team. While a long-awaited return to the coaching ranks on Ryan’s part would come as a surprise given last week’s reporting, Zimmer’s hire does not appear to be a lock at this point.

FEBRUARY 8: The Cowboys looked at a number of candidates to replace Dan Quinn at defensive coordinator, and they’ve finally settled on their choice. According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, the Cowboys are expected to hire Mike Zimmer as their defensive coordinator. Per Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News, there are some “logistics to [be] completed,” but Zimmer is the choice for the job.

Since he was fired as Vikings head coach following the 2021 campaign, Zimmer has been away from the NFL. He had a brief stint as a consultant at Jackson State in 2022, and it was assumed that the veteran coach would eventually look to return to the big leagues. Ultimately, he’ll land with the organization that gave him his first NFL gig back in 1994.

Zimmer started as a defensive assistant in Dallas, but it only took him a year before he earned a promotion to defensive backs coach. He earned a promotion to defensive coordinator when Dave Campo took over as head coach in 2000, and he stuck around the organization when the Cowboys pivoted to Bill Parcells in 2003. After more than a decade in Dallas, he had a one-year stint as the Falcons defensive coordinator before moving to the Bengals, where he’d serve as the DC for the next six years.

Thanks to his defensive track record, Zimmer was named the Vikings head coach in 2014. He ended up spending eight seasons in Minnesota, guiding the Vikings to three playoff appearances. This included a 2017 campaign where the Vikings went 13-3 in the regular season before falling to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game.

While the wheels never completely fell off in Minnesota, the Vikings went 15-18 between the 2020 and 2021 seasons. He was fired following that 2021 campaign, ending his Vikings tenure with a 72-56-1 record.

The Cowboys job was certainly an enticing opportunity for Zimmer as he looked to return to the NFL. Dallas finished in the top seven in scoring defense during each of Quinn’s three seasons calling plays, and the unit had perhaps their most productive season in 2023. The Cowboys defense finished this past season having allowed the fifth-fewest yards and fifth-fewest points in the NFL.

While Quinn turned down previous head coaching opportunities, he left the Cowboys for the Commanders earlier this month. The Cowboys quickly looked to replace their departed coach. The team considered a number of inside candidates for promotions, including defensive line coach Aden Durde, cornerbacks coach Al Harris, and defensive backs coach Joe Whitt, who ended up joining Quinn as the DC in Washington. In addition to Zimmer, the outside candidates included Jets safeties coach Marquand Manuel, former Commanders head coach Ron Rivera, and former Jets head coach Rex Ryan.