Dave Ziegler

AFC East Notes: Saleh, Darnold, Patriots, Bills

Robert Saleh signed his contract with the Jets today, making him the 20th head coach in franchise history. While speaking to the media, the former 49ers defensive coordinator indicated that he’d be looking for specific types of players as he helps general manager Joe Douglas fill out the roster.

“There are no shortcuts to success, and I am committed to working with Joe to build this team the right way: with talented players that play fast and smart, and a staff that supports and helps develop them through it all,” Saleh said (via the team website).

Douglas, who led the coaching search alongside included team president Hymie Elhai, noted that Saleh believes in many of the same principals that the executive brought with him from Philadelphia when he joined the Jets in 2019.

“We spoke to some tremendous coaches, but Rob is the right partner and leader for us,” Douglas said. “His vision for this team aligns with what we have been working to establish here the last two years.”

The 41-year-old Saleh was an early favorite for the job based on the strength of his SF defense. In 2020, the Niners finished fifth in total yards, seventh in rushing yards, and fourth in passing yards allowed. In 2019, Saleh’s D surrendered just 169.2 passing yards per contest — the lowest average since Rex Ryan‘s 2009 Jets D.

Let’s check out some more notes from around the AFC East…

  • Saleh and new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur have spent time evaluating Sam Darnold‘s tape, and the coaches believe the Jets quarterback has “untapped potential,” per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. The former third-overall pick had a rough season in 2020, leading some to wonder whether the new staff would prefer to take a quarterback with the second-overall pick.
  • The eight Patriots players who opted out of the 2020 season were asked to return for year-end physicals last week, writes ESPN’s Mike Reiss. Wideout Marqise Lee and running back Brandon Bolden have both said they plan to play in 2021, and Reiss opines that safety Patrick Chung, tight end Matt LaCosse, and fullback Danny Vitale will also return. However, the writer is much less certain that offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and linebacker Dont’a Hightower will be back in New England.
  • While Dave Ziegler was always an underdog in the Broncos GM search, he parlayed that experience into a “multiyear contract and pay bump as Nick Caserio‘s successor” in New England, writes Reiss. The Patriots assistant director of player personnel eventually withdrew his name from the search in Denver, and Reiss writes that this is a “reflection of the decisiveness that has earned him a measure of respect in the Patriots’ offices over the past eight year.”
  • Bills running back Zack Moss underwent minor surgery on his ankle this morning, tweets ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The 23-year-old is expected to make a full recovery from the “tight rope procedure,” and he should be ready to go for offseason workouts. The third-rounder finished his rookie campaign having compiled 576 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns.

2021 NFL General Manager Search Tracker

This year’s NFL GM carousel figures to be more active than usual. The Falcons, Lions, Panthers, Texans, and Jaguars are all on the hunt for a new front office leader. And that’s only the official list. The real tally shows six clubs looking for a GM, since the Washington Football Team is expected to install a GM to work alongside head coach Ron Rivera. By mid-January, we could easily see a couple more jobs opening up — that’d put ~25% of the NFL on the market.

We’ll keep track of the GM candidates for each club here, along with their current status. If and when other teams decide to make general manager changes, they’ll be added to this list. Here’s the current breakdown:

Updated 1-19-21 (7:02pm CT)

Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers 

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

Washington Football Team

Latest On Broncos GM Search

It’s going to be a busy day for the Broncos, as NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that the organization will be interviewing three general manager candidates on Saturday. The list of interviewees includes Patriots assistant director of player personnel Dave Ziegler, Saints vice president of pro personnel Terry Fontenot, and Broncos director of college scouting Brian Stark.

This isn’t the first time that we’ve heard Ziegler connected to Denver’s GM vacancy. We learned earlier this week that the Broncos had requested an interview from New England, and the Patriots apparently consented (despite losing Monti Ossenfort last year and Nick Caserio this year). The 43-year-old Ziegler has risen from the scouting level to director of pro personnel to his current post. The Patriots promoted Ziegler to assistant player personnel director last year.

Promoted from Saints pro scouting director to assistant GM earlier this year, Fontenot has been with New Orleans for 16 years. The 40-year-old was connected to the Jets GM vacancy last offseason, and he’s emerged as a candidate for the Falcons, Lions, and Jaguars gigs in 2021.

Stark appears to be the top internal candidate for the opening. Stark is currently serving as Denver’s director of college scouting, with Mike Klis of 9News in Denver tweeting that the executive “is well-respected in NFL” and considered a “rising football exec” among Broncos brass. Prior to his stint in Denver, Stark served as an offensive coordinator at Yale University.

As our 2021 NFL General Manager Search Tracker shows, this will increase Denver’s search to five candidates, as Bears assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly and Vikings assistant GM George Paton have also been connected to the job. The Broncos are clearly evaluating all of their options as they search for a GM for the first time in 10 years. Earlier this month, John Elway gave up personnel control of the Broncos and moved to the role of President of Football Operations.

Broncos Request GM Interviews With Patriots’ Dave Ziegler, Vikings’ George Paton

The Broncos are moving forward with their search to bring in a new GM. They have requested to interview Patriots assistant director of player personnel Dave Ziegler, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. The team also submitted a request to meet with Vikings assistant GM George Paton, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

While Ziegler has spent much of his career as a Pats exec, he began his NFL run with the Broncos. He joins Nick Caserio as Pats execs sought by other teams for GM posts. The Patriots already lost Monti Ossenfort to the Titans last year and could see multiple execs depart their front office soon.

This marks the first Ziegler GM interest to surface. The 43-year-old exec has risen from the scouting level to director of pro personnel to his current post. The Patriots promoted Ziegler to assistant player personnel director last year.

Interestingly, Ziegler played college football with Josh McDaniels — not exactly a popular name in Denver — and Caserio at Ohio’s John Carroll University. Ziegler’s Denver stint began in 2010, McDaniels’ second and final year in Denver. He joined the Patriots in 2013. The Broncos are looking for a new personnel boss for the first time since McDaniels’ rough tenure, with John Elway moving out of the role he held for 10 years.

Paton is a veteran of the GM carousel. His most notable act on this circuit was pulling out of a Browns GM search he was on the verge of winning earlier this year, but the longtime Vikings exec has interviewed with other teams and been connected to several searches in recent years.

Unlike Ziegler and fellow rumored candidates Adam Peters (49ers) and Champ Kelly (Bears), Paton does not have a Broncos past. He spent time with the Bears and Dolphins, working with longtime Vikings GM Rick Spielman with those teams as well, and has been with the Vikings since 2007.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots Notes: Stidham, McDaniels, Winovich

Jarrett Stidham will likely be taking over for Tom Brady next season, and his former college coach is optimistic that the 2019 fourth-rounder will be successful.

“It definitely helped him to learn under the best and see what that looks like, but he’s the kind of young man, too, this is what he’s been waiting on,” Auburn’s Gus Malzahn told ESPN’s Mike Reiss. “I’ll tell you, the moment won’t be too big for him. He’ll be up to the challenge, that’s what I expect.

“Even when he got here, before he played his first game, you could just kind of tell he was a mature young man. Like a gym rat, always at the complex trying to learn, study film. When he got drafted by the Patriots [in 2019], I thought it was a perfect spot for him system-wise — spreading the field. He’s so good with protections, changing protections, and scheme-wise everything that goes with it, and just the flexibility the scheme gives him. I think that really applies to his strength.”

Stidham played a pair of seasons at Auburn, including a 2017 campaign where he connected on 66.5-percent of his passes for 3,158 yards, 18 touchdowns, and six interceptions.

Here are some more notes out of New England:

  • We’ve heard this plenty of times, but Joseph Person of The Athletic reiterates that Cam Newton won’t be landing with the Patriots. In fact, the reporter notes that Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wasn’t “necessarily high” on Newton when he interviewed for the Panthers’ head coaching gig.
  • Speaking of McDaniels, SI.com’s Albert Breer writes that a successful 2020 campaign (particularly from Stidham) could go a long way in the OC getting more head coaching interviews next offseason. If McDaniels does leave New England, Breer hints that he may take Patriots pro director Dave Ziegler with him; McDaniels planned to recruit the executive when he was interviewing with Cleveland.
  • Patriots defensive end Chase Winovich is recovering from hernia surgery, reports Stan Grossfeld of the Boston Globe. The 25-year-old underwent the procedure back in February. The 2019 third-rounder had a solid rookie season for New England, compiling 26 tackles and 5.5 sacks.
  • Marqise Lee‘s new one-year deal with the Patriots is worth the veteran minimum, reports Ben Volin of the Boston Globe (via Twitter). The deal could be worth up to $1.0475MM, and it includes $300K in guaranteed money. If Lee makes the team, he’ll have a cap hold of $887.5K.

Patriots Notes: Jones, Hightower, Ebner, Hogan

The Patriots have filled the vacancy created when Bob Quinn left for the Lions, as Dave Ziegler has been promoted to director of pro personnel, according to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com. Ziegler, 38, had spent the past three year’s as Quinn’s No. 2, and previously worked for the Broncos under current New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Here’s a bit more on the Patriots…

  • New England has an impressive crop of players entering the final year of their contracts, as Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Malcolm Butler — among others — will be free agents after the 2016 season. But the club hadn’t initiated extension talks with any of those players as of Friday, reports Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. The Patriots might begin contract conversations after free agency concludes, per Volin, but Hightower, for his part, appears likely to play out the season on his fifth-year option without coming to a long-term agreement.
  • Receivers Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell are both potential cap casualties, but the Patriots haven’t “tipped their hand” about their plans for the pass-catchers, writes Volin. Additionally, offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon, also though to be on the roster bubble, aren’t sure of their status.
  • The Patriots want to retain free agent defensive back Nate Ebner — a special-teams ace — but the team is playing “hardball” at the moment, and hopes that it can re-sign Ebner for the veteran’s minimum.
  • Defensive tackle Alan Branch‘s $400K option bonus is due on the third day of the new league year, according to Reiss. If he’s retained, the 31-year-old Branch is due to count $2.75MM against New England’s cap.
  • The Patriots have a history of targeting restricted free agents — both those who are tendered by their clubs and those who aren’t — and one such player who might interest New England this offseason is Bills receiver Chris Hogan, per Reiss, who notes that Buffalo may not tender Hogan due to its salary cap restraints.