Freddie Kitchens

Extra Points: Falcons, Browns, Carson

Some assorted notes as we wrap up this Monday night:

  • The Falcons will audition safeties on Tuesday in the wake of Keanu Neal‘s season-ending injury, head coach Dan Quinn announced. Neal suffered a torn Achilles during Sunday’s loss, and the team turned to Kemal Ishmael for the rest of the game. While Quinn didn’t disclose any names, Eric Berry, George Iloka, and T.J. McDonald are among the top free agents at the position.
  • The 1-2 Browns currently rank 26th in the league with 16.3 points per game, but head coach Freddie Kitchens isn’t ready to hand over play-calling duties. Kitchens made it clear to reporters that he’ll continue to call plays this weekend against the Ravens. “You can write that if you want to, but that’s not even feasible,’’ Kitchens said (via Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com). “That’s not being considered. No, it’s not…it’s not going to happen.” As Cabot writes, Kitchens “dismissed the notion that serving the dual roles of head coach and playcaller are too much for him,” and he scoffed at the suggestion that offensive coordinator Todd Monken could handle the duties.
  • JP Finlay of NBC Sports Washington believes that Redskins offensive guard Brandon Scherff is likely heading towards free agency. Finlay writes that the front office never made an enticing offer to the 27-year-old, and despite Scherff’s Pro Bowl pedigree, the organization is wary of paying him more than $13MM per season. On the flip side, Finlay says the organization could always use the franchise tag on the lineman if they want to retain his services.
  • Seahawks running back Chris Carson has three fumbles through three games, but the team will continue to rely on the 25-year-old. Head coach Pete Carroll told Pro Football Talk’s Curtis Crabtree that the team will play the back as he works through his case of the yips. “Because we do believe in him, we’re going to continue to show him that,” Carroll said (via PFT’s Charean Williams). “He’s a terrific football player, and we want to make sure and maintain that level of play from him, so we’ll work at it and work with him on it.” Carson has compiled 159 rushing yards and one touchdown on 45 carries this season.

AFC North Notes: Josh Johnson, Ravens, Kareem Hunt

With the news that Ravens backup quarterback Robert Griffin would miss time with a fractured bone on his thumb, the team worked out free agent quarterback Josh Johnson, the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted.

A journeyman signal-caller over the last decade, Johnson has suited up in the regular season with five teams — Buccaneers, Browns, Bengals, 49ers and Redskins — but has been a part of numerous others. He received an extended look under center with Washington in 2018, when he started three games and threw for 590 yards and three touchdowns.

A mobile QB, Johnson fits Baltimore’s run-heavy attack and has worked under Harbaugh in the past. Johnson reportedly had ankle surgery in March, so assuming he receives a clean bill of health during his workout, the veteran makes plenty of sense to work under second-year signal-caller Lamar Jackson.

Here’s more from around the AFC North:

  • Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam addressed the media about Kareem Hunt, stating that talks are still ongoing with the league and players association regarding the team’s attempt to have Hunt remain with the team through the upcoming eight-game suspension, the Akron Beacon Journal’s Nate Ulrich tweeted, Dee Haslam also noted Hunt has to work really hard to be a part of the Browns and that it’s up to him, Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot tweeted.
  • Sticking in Cleveland, second-year defensive end Chad Thomas gave the middle finger to a fan who heckled Thomas to hustle on Sunday, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes. Coach Freddie Kitchens addressed the incident, saying that if the two of them had a conversation it would stay between them. “Of course, Chad Thomas, as you guys see, he is very emotional, a passionate guy. I want those guys to play with passion, but he is also a young guy so he has to understand and develop a sense of when to move on. I think he will learn.” Since it was not done during a game, the Browns instead of the NFL will handle any type of punishment.
  • Steelers safety Sean Davis suffered a finger injury that could possibly be a dislocation, coach Mike Tomlin said [Tweet via ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler]. Davis has started 31 of a possible 32 games the past two seasons in Pittsburgh, registering four interceptions and 15 pass breakups.

Browns Notes: Kitchens, Monken, Mayfield, Johnson

New Browns head coach Freddie Kitchens hired former Buccaneers offensive coordinator Todd Monken for the same role this offseason, but Monken’s transition has reportedly not gone well, according to Mike Silver of NFL.com (Twitter link). In turn, Kitchens has been forced to play a larger than expected role in “spearheading” Cleveland’s offense, per Silver. Kitchens had already been planning to call offensive plays in 2019, so it’s unclear what the issue regarding Monken might be. Speculatively, it’s possible Monken’s Air Raid background hasn’t meshed well with the offense that Kitchens is installing for the Browns.

Here’s more from Cleveland:

  • More from Silver, who indicates several Browns veterans weren’t pleased quarterback Baker Mayfield publicly criticized running back Duke Johnson, who is still asking for a trade out of Cleveland. Regarding Johnson, Mayfield said (among other things) “you’re either on this train or you’re not, it’s moving.” An unwritten NFL rule typically dictates that players don’t comment on teammates’ contractual situations, and it sounds like Mayfield was made aware of that concept. Per Silver, Mayfield and the Browns players who disagreed with his comments have “hashed things out.”
  • The Browns tried to claim cornerback Montrel Meander off waivers from the Raiders before the Jets beat them to the punch, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com hears (Twitter link). Meander spent most of the 2018 campaign on Cleveland’s practice squad, and will now join former Browns/current Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in New York.
  • In case you missed it, the Browns last week added a former Raiders executive to their front office.

Browns GM Discusses OBJ Trade

The Browns have seemingly been connected to a number of big-name wideouts over the past year or so, and the team finally acquired a superstar receiver when they traded for Odell Beckham Jr.. The team had to give up plenty of capital (including a first-rounder and former first-rounder Jabrill Peppers), but they’re naturally excited about the potential of their young and dynamic offense.

General manager John Dorsey recently talked with Andrew Gribble of ClevelandBrowns.com to discuss all things OBJ, including the teams preparation for the trade and how the receiver will mesh with head coach Freddie Kitchens and quarterback Baker Mayfield. The entire article is worth a read, but we’ve compiled the notable soundbites below…

On if the front office prepared for a potential OBJ trade:

“It was a hypothetical that sometimes you can plan for, but you can plan for stuff that 99 percent of the time does not transpire. This just so happened to be that 1 percent that your planning actually paid off.”

On why the Browns ultimately pulled the trigger on a deal with the Giants:

“You can’t have enough competitive football players. We all understand the magnitude of his ability to play the game of football. He is a good football player, and you can’t have enough weapons around you. He is a really good asset to have on our football team.”

On the relationship between OBJ and his college teammate, Jarvis Landry:

“I know that they are best of friends. They are very competitive with each other. I heard Les Miles talk about how those two would drive each other and push each other when they were at LSU to compete. I think it can only help each other because that competition brings out the best in any athlete, regardless of the sport.”

On Kitchens’ ability to manage so many personalities:

“The one thing I love about Freddie, Freddie is very direct. He is very straightforward. He is going to set expectations. He is going to hold players accountable. He is going to be the same guy day in and day out. You know what? Players respect him, and they respect that type of approach.”

On expectations for Mayfield in 2019:

“With Baker, he showed last year that he can step up to certain challenges. The object of this thing is to surround him with as many good football players as you possibly can. It seems like Odell and Baker have a relationship formed. I am not sure where it formed, but they tell me that they have a relationship and that it is a good relationship. I am excited to see what the whole bunch can do.”

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Which Team Made Best HC Hire?

With the NFL now in the two-week waiting period until its final meaningful game, 30 of the 32 teams are going through offseason motions. And some of those teams are still deciding on coordinators.

Unless another Patriots assistant reneges on an agreement post-Super Bowl, or Zac Taylor makes an 11th-hour decision to remain in Los Angeles rather than taking over in Cincinnati, the eight NFL teams in need of head coaches made their choices.

So, which franchise best positioned itself for long-term success?

The trend being offensive innovation to keep up with some of the ahead-of-the-curve offenses, six of the eight teams hired offensively oriented coaches.

By a substantial margin, the Cardinals won the outside-the-box trophy. After washing out as an NFL quarterback in the mid-2000s, Kliff Kingsbury spent more than a decade as a college coach. The 39-year-old groomed some sought-after NFL talent in Patrick Mahomes, Case Keenum and Davis Webb, while also bringing Baker Mayfield to Texas Tech for a short stay. But he finished his stay in Lubbock, Texas, with a sub-.500 record. The Cards added Vance Joseph and Tom Clements to be his top assistants. Because of their unconventional hire, the Cardinals will be one of the most interesting teams in 2019.

Bruce Arians‘ CBS stay lasting one year will bring one of the more interesting coaches in modern NFL history back to the sideline. Tampa Bay’s new coach is the oldest ever hired, at 66 years old. Arians will be tethered to Jameis Winston, and it does not sound like he has issues with that. Arians hired several former Cardinals assistants to help him attempt to snap the NFC’s longest active playoff drought. Arians led the Cardinals to their best season, record-wise (13-3 in 2015), since the franchise has been in Arizona but is also barely a year removed from retiring.

The Packers and Browns opted for OCs, the former seeing a major difference in Matt LaFleur‘s vision than those of the other coaches that interviewed. Cleveland made the biggest continuity move of this year’s HC-seeking octet,promoting Freddie Kitchens over candidates with more experience.

LaFleur’s Titans offense regressed from Mike Mularkey‘s final unit, with Tennessee ranking 27th in points scored last season. But the 39-year-old coach, who will be working with ex-Jaguars assistant Nathaniel Hackett in overseeing the back end of Aaron Rodgers‘ prime, trained under Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan. Kitchens rose from position coach to head coach in less than three months, but Mayfield’s performance in the second half of the season was obviously different from his play under Hue Jackson and Todd Haley.

Taylor and Adam Gase round out the offensively geared hires, the former being perhaps the highest-variance candidate among the non-Kingsbury wing.

Although Taylor was the Dolphins’ interim OC in 2015 and McVay’s quarterbacks coach this season, he spent 2016 running a Cincinnati Bearcats offense that ranked 123rd (out of 128 Division I-FBS teams) with 19.3 points per game for a 4-8 team and was the Rams’ assistant wideouts coach as recently as 2017. Gase led the Dolphins to the playoffs in 2016, but Ryan Tannehill‘s issues staying healthy and living up to his draft slot limited the former Broncos and Bears OC. The Jets saw enough to add the formerly in-demand assistant, who may be ready to bring longtime coworker Dowell Loggains with him to the Big Apple.

Denver and Miami went with defense, with the Broncos having no competition for 2018’s assistant coach of the year and, arguably, this decade’s top DC.

The Dolphins cancelled their Vic Fangio summit, and he will be in charge of elevating a Broncos team that finished with back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since the early 1970s. John Elway‘s plan to reinstall Gary Kubiak as OC also hit a snag, with the longtime friends’ disagreement on staffing leading to the Broncos hiring 49ers QBs coach Rich Scangarello. The Dolphins will become the fifth franchise to hire a Bill Belichick-era Patriots defensive coordinator (or de facto DC, in Brian Flores‘ case), following the Browns (Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini), Jets (Mangini), Chiefs (Crennel) and Lions (Matt Patricia). Flores helped the Patriots to yet another top-10 ranking in points allowed — their 15th in the past 18 seasons — and another Super Bowl berth.

Vote in PFR’s latest poll and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Coaching Rumors: Rizzi, Dennison, Browns

Darren Rizzi interviewed for the Dolphins coaching job that is likely to go to Brian Flores, but the special teams coordinator is a coveted commodity around the league. The Packers are set to interview him, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. Miami wants to retain Rizzi, who has been with the team throughout the 2010s, but has given him permission to seek employment elsewhere. That may soon prompt an extensive interview circuit. Five teams are interested in bringing him aboard, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald tweets. The Vikings look to be one of those. Rizzi, 48, has only coached for one NFL franchise. His pre-Dolphins gigs were college jobs in the northeast, including a one-season stay (2008) as Rhode Island’s head coach.

As week three of many teams’ offseason begins, here is the latest from the coaching circuit:

  • Todd Monken‘s rise to Buccaneers play-caller earned him interest in teams’ OC jobs. He ended up landing with the Browns, but the other recent play-caller on this staff will call Cleveland’s plays next season. Freddie Kitchens will be the game-day director for the Browns’ offense next season, Pat McManamon of ESPN.com notes (on Twitter). This won’t be too new for Monken, who spent the first two seasons as Bucs OC watching Dirk Koetter call plays.
  • The Vikings announced Klint Kubiak (quarterbacks coach) and Brian Pariani (tight ends) are following Gary Kubiak to Minnesota, with the latter’s official title being assistant head coach/offensive advisor. Expected to be part of the Gary Kubiak gang getting back together up north, Rick Dennison was not included in this announcement. But Mike Klis of 9News notes the former Broncos and Bills OC is indeed believed to be part of the next Vikings staff (Twitter link). When Kubiak agreed to reprise his longtime role as Broncos OC, he wanted Dennison to oversee the team’s offensive line concepts, per Klis. The Broncos’ pursuit of Mike Munchak overruled this, and Dennison — the Jets’ O-line coach in 2018 — could be set to have a role in aiding the Vikings’ blockers next season.
  • Speaking of Munchak, the Broncos went beyond their usual offensive line coach budget to bring him over from Pittsburgh, Klis notes (on Twitter). Munchak, who has coached for just two franchises (the Oilers/Titans and Steelers), has family in the area.
  • The Steelers promoted Shaun Sarrett to replace Munchak as their O-line coach, the team announced. Sarrett had previously served as the team’s assistant offensive line coach. He has been with the Steelers for seven seasons, helping instruct their offensive linemen for most of that time.
  • After the Steelers let running backs coach James Saxon go, he will move to Arizona. The Cardinals are hiring Saxon to coach their running backs, Aditi Kinkabwala of NFL.com reports (on Twitter). He will replace Kirby Wilson and attempt to revive Arizona’s No. 32-ranked ground game. Saxon has 19 years’ experience coaching running backs in the NFL — the past five with the Steelers, where he oversaw Le’Veon Bell‘s rise and James Conner and Jaylen Samuels‘ quality replacement efforts — and should help rookie NFL coach Kliff Kingsbury.
  • Kris Kocurek will move from south Florida to the Bay Area, shifting from the Dolphins’ defensive line coach to the same role with the 49ers, Adam Caplan of Sirius XM tweets. Kocurek, 40, was the Lions’ D-line coach for nine seasons prior to moving to Miami.

AFC Coaching Notes: Bengals, Browns, Broncos

When the Rams’ postseason run comes to a close, the Bengals are expected to offer quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor their head coaching position. With the expected move, Cincinnati cleaned house on Friday, dismissing the previous staff of Marvin Lewis, including offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, ESPN’s Katherine Terrell writes. Among the other assistants let go include running backs coach Kyle Caskey and tight ends coach Jonathan Hayes.

This move, of course, is not unexpected. Most head coaches will bring in their own guys and Taylor — or whoever ends up with the job — is no exception.

A longtime NFL assistant, Lazor began his tenure with the Falcons as an offensive quality control coach in 2003 before moving to the Redskins as an offensive assistant in 2004. After a handful of other jobs, including a stint in the college ranks with Virginia, Lazor landed the offensive coordinator role with the Dolphins in 2014. After serving there two seasons, he joined the Bengals as quarterbacks coach in 2016 and was promoted to offensive coordinator the following season. In two seasons running the show in Cincinnati, Lazor ranked in the bottom 10 in yards and bottom half in points both seasons.

Here’s more from the AFC’s coaching carousel:

  • Sticking in the AFC North, Browns new head coach Freddie Kitchens cleaned house after getting the job. Once person he didn’t let go, however, was Ryan Lindley, who will serve as his quarterbacks coach next season, AZCardinals.com’s Mike Jurecki tweets. Lindley, who played in the NFL from 2012-15 as a quarterback, served as the Browns running backs coach in 2018.
  • Also with the Browns, the team added former Vikings special teams coordinator Mike Priefer as its special teams coordinator, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero [Twitter link]. Priefer filled the same role in Minnesota from 2011-18, but declined to re-sign with the team after his contract expired after this past season. Priefer was born in Cleveland and coached two seasons at nearby Youngstown State in the 1990s.
  • New Broncos head coach Vic Fangio is bringing back special teams coordinator Tom McMahon, News9 in Denver’s Mike Klis tweets. McMahon concluded his 12th season in the NFL this past season, his first as special teams coordinator with the Broncos. He previously held the same position with the Colts, Chiefs and Rams.

Latest On Browns, Freddie Kitchens

The Browns’ chain of command has been muddled in the past, but the team’s new structure appears to be pretty straight forward. New head coach Freddie Kitchens will report directly to GM John Dorsey and not to owner Jimmy Haslam, according to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports (on Twitter). 

Meanwhile, Kitchens will “retool [the] staff,” Robinson says, so he’ll likely have the freedom to choose the coaches that he wants. That includes the offensive side of the staff, which is Kitchens’ specialty.

Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski had support to be the head coaching hire, Robinson hears, but the consensus was ultimately Kitchens. Multiple executives were in the room hashing things out, but the hire ultimately was made by Haslam and Dorsey.

The Browns did not ask Baker Mayfield for his suggestion, but they did listen to his thoughts on Kitchens, Robinson writes. Naturally, Mayfield was a big proponent of Kitchens, who helped get the offense back on track in the second half of the season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns To Hire Freddie Kitchens As HC

The Browns decided to stay in-house. Or, more accurately, in the kitchen. On Wednesday afternoon, the Browns will formally announce the promotion of offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens to the head coaching position, according to ESPN.com’s Chris Mortensen (on Twitter). 

[RELATED: PFR’s 2019 Head Coaching Search Tracker]

Kitchens proved his value after an in-season promotion gave him the keys to the Browns’ offense. Under Kitchen’s tutelage, rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield thrived and became a legitimate contender for the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award. The Browns closed the season 5-3 with Kitchens donning the headset and it appears that he is being given more credit for the turnaround than interim head coach Gregg Williams.

Early on, the Browns were connected to some big-name coaching candidates such as former Packers coach Mike McCarthy and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. The Browns did not seriously pursue either coach, choosing instead to talk with Williams, Jim Caldwell, Dan CampbellMatt Eberflus, Brian FloresMike MunchakNick Sirianni, and Kevin Stefanski.

Stefanski, the Vikings’ offensive coordinator, was believed to be a finalist alongside Kitchens. Ultimately, he lost out, which means that Brad Childress is probably not on his way back to Cleveland after all.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Latest On Browns’ HC Job

As they advance to the finalist stage of their coaching search, the Browns appear to be zeroing in on young play-callers.

Kevin Stefanski is headed back to Cleveland for a second interview, Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports (on Twitter). The coach who took over the Vikings’ play-calling responsibilities late in the season may be competing with Freddie Kitchens, who ascended to this role in Cleveland.

Kitchens now has a “good chance” of landing the Browns’ HC job, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. The Browns interviewed Kitchens on Monday and have been making calls to inquire about his coaching past, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets.

These are the two finalists for the position, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. As Stefanski heads back to Cleveland, Kitchens remains in the Browns’ building.

While the Browns are eyeing Stefanski for their HC job, he remains a leading candidate to stay on with the Vikings as OC, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com tweets. However, Stefanski is a coaching free agent after his contract recently expired.

Several Browns assistants have already been asked to stay on board, Cabot reports, which would back the idea the 44-year-old Kitchens will receive a major promotion. Neither Kitchens nor Stefanski had OC experience heading into 2018. The Browns appear to be serious about pairing Baker Mayfield with a young, offensively oriented leader.

Stefanski, 36, interviewed for the Browns’ HC vacancy on Jan. 3. He is the youngest candidate involved in the John Dorsey-led search. This comes after he was passed over for the Vikings’ OC job a year ago for former Browns OC John DeFilippo. But Minnesota fired the latter late this season, and Stefanski is competing with Kitchens and perhaps others for the Cleveland job.

The Browns blocked Kitchens from pursuing offensive coordinator jobs outside the organization. It looks like he has a real shot to continue to work with Mayfield, which is not necessarily a big surprise given the rookie passer’s success after the Browns fired Hue Jackson and Todd Haley. Kitchens receiving the HC job may point to Gregg Williams staying on, though it would be an altered dynamic given the 60-year-old interim leader’s previous role as Kitchens’ boss.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.