Freddie Kitchens

Browns Promote Gregg Williams To HC

The Browns have named defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as their new interim head coach, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com (on Twitter). Meanwhile, Freddie Kitchens has been promoted from assistant to interim offensive coordinator, as Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com tweets

Williams, 60, has been an NFL coach since joining the Houston Oilers’ staff in 1990. Since then, he has held several defensive coordinator positions, and also served as the Bills’ head coach from 2001-2003. Williams’ Bills teams went 3-13, 8-8, and 6-10 in each of those seasons, resulting in a 17-31 record overall. That .354 mark is far from ideal, but it beats Hue Jackson‘s lifetime 11-44-1 mark (.205).

Kitchens began his coaching career in the college ranks before signing on as the Cowboys’ tight ends coach in 2006. After a ten-year run with the Cardinals, he became the Browns’ running backs coach/associate head coach earlier this year.

On Monday morning, the Browns dropped a pair of bombs on the football world. First, Hue Jackson was told to pack his bags. Moments later, we learned that offensive coordinator Todd Haley was also handed a pink slip. Ultimately, the infighting between the two men left Browns brass with a sour taste and cost both of them their jobs.

We greatly appreciate Hue’s commitment to the Cleveland Browns organization over the last two and a half years,” the Haslams said in a joint statement. “We understand how critical this time period is in the development of our football team, individually and collectively, and believed it was in the organization’s best interest to make the move at this time, in order to maximize our opportunities the rest of this season. We certainly only wish Hue, Michelle, and his family the best moving forward.”

While the Browns have struggled this year, the defense has been largely solid under Williams’ guidance. The Browns lead the league with 22 takeaways this season and Williams will now be charged with injecting some life into the offense as well.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Officially Hire Todd Haley

The Browns have their man. On Wednesday morning, the Browns formally announced the hiring of Todd Haley as their new offensive coordinator. Todd Haley (vertical)

We’re thrilled to bring Todd Haley in as our offensive coordinator,” said head coach Hue Jackson in a press release. “I’ve known Todd for a very long time and have respected and admired the job he’s done as a play-caller in this league. He’s a coordinator that has been successful in every place he’s been. He has been a guy that has adjusted his offense to successfully complement and taken advantage of the skillset of his personnel. I’ve witnessed firsthand how prolific his offenses have been in the AFC North over the last six seasons. As I reflected after the season and contemplated adding an offensive coordinator to the staff, my first thought was obviously improvement. If I was going to turn over the play calling duties to someone else, it had to be to someone that was experienced and had a long history of success in this league….When Todd became available, I jumped at the opportunity to meet with him. Once we sat down and talked, it became quickly evident that Todd would be a great fit.”

Of course, some will speculate that Jackson didn’t have much choice when it came to hiring an offensive coordinator. Jackson has been the team’s play caller for the last two years and the team has won just one game over that span. At the same time, Jackson previously intimated that he would have hired an OC for 2017, but he did not want to saddle a new hire with such a talent-poor offense.

Haley has spent the past 21 years coaching in the NFL, including the past six as the Steelers’ OC. Under Haley’s guidance, the Steelers had one of the best offenses in the NFL. Wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell flourished in Haley’s system and they were among the six offensive players from the Steelers to be selected to the Pro Bowl this past season. Meanwhile, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has earned four straight Pro Bowl nods and tied for the NFL lead in passing yards in 2014. The Browns are dying to those kinds of results from their next quarterback, whoever he may be.

In addition to Haley, the Browns announced that Amos Jones will be the team’s new special teams coordinator and Freddie Kitchens will serve as the running backs/associate head coach.

Cardinals Uncertain If Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald Will Return

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Steelers, Seahawks, Ravens, Jets

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

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

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

More from around the league:

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