Lincoln Riley

Cowboys Mulled Firing Scott Linehan During Bye Week; Latest On Jason Garrett

The Cowboys’ offense has been anemic all season long, and the unit ranks 26th in the league in points per game (19.3) and 27th in yards per game (317.1). Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was “thoroughly evaluated” at the end of the 2017 campaign, and Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reiterated today that head coach Jason Garrett strongly considered moving on from Linehan at that time (video link).

And while Garrett elected to keep Linehan on board and went along with Linehan’s overhaul of the wide receivers room, Rapoport says Garrett again considered firing Linehan during the team’s bye week at the end of October. Indeed, Rapoport said that he thought Linehan was going to be shown the door, but Dallas reversed course and elected to fire offensive line coach Paul Alexander instead. But unless the 3-5 Cowboys are able to make a surge in the second half of the season, the entire coaching staff could be on its way out.

Indeed, Rapoport confirmed today that the Cowboys are not planning to fire Garrett before the end of the season, which we heard earlier this week. But his job security is tenuous at best, and if owner Jerry Jones ultimately decides to ax Garrett, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley is one name to keep an eye on. The Jones family is fond of Riley, who has also been mentioned as a potential candidate for the Browns’ head coaching job, so if Cleveland wants to reunite Baker Mayfield with his collegiate coach, it may have to battle Dallas, and perhaps other clubs, for the privilege.

In the interview with Rapoport linked above, Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network briefly mentioned the possibility that Garrett could take control of offensive play-calling duties in an effort to save the Cowboys’ season and his job, but there does not appear to be anything concrete on that front at the moment.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Bell, Browns, Green, Cook

The Le’Veon Bell saga is coming to a head, as the Steelers running back must sign his franchise tender by November 13 to be eligible to play for any team this season. But as Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes, the CBA does not dictate that Bell must report by that day, only that he sign the tender. That means that Bell could sign the tender and not report until next Saturday, which would make him eligible to be added to the roster for next Sunday’s game — not that he would be playing in that game regardless — or he could just not sign the tender at all and skip the entire season.

The latter option is not considered likely at this time, but La Canfora says that if Bell does skip the entire 2018 campaign, the Steelers would strongly consider slapping the franchise or transition tag on him next offseason, which would of course set up another drama-filled battle. La Canfora further reports that no rival clubs called Pittsburgh at last week’s trade deadline in an attempt to acquire Bell.

Now for more the league’s North divisions:

  • When the Browns have hired a new head coach in recent seasons, they have used a search firm, but Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network (video link) says he would be surprised if the team, with respected GM John Dorsey now in charge, goes that route when it looks for another HC this offseason. Rapoport’s sources expect Dorsey to conduct the search himself, and they expect that he will do so very “secretly.” Rapoport says one name under consideration would be Josh McDaniels, who is reportedly open to revisiting HC opportunities (should another one come his way), and RapSheet also lists John DeFilippo, Mike McCarthy, and Lincoln Riley as potential targets.
  • Bengals WR A.J. Green is battling a toe injury, per Rapoport (via Twitter), who says that Green either has visited or will visit foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson. There will be more clarity on the injury soon, and Rapoport says surgery remains on the table. Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets that Green is expected to miss time regardless of whether he has surgery.
  • Vikings WR Stefon Diggs will miss today’s game with a rib injury, per Rapoport (video link), though it is uncertain whether Diggs will miss any additional time (given that he expected to play today and was listed as questionable on the final injury report, it seems that he’ll be ready to go after Minnesota’s bye next week. Meanwhile, RB Dalvin Cook is expected to hit the field today, which will mark his first appearance since Week 4. Cook will be on a pitch count and is only expected to see 20 snaps or so, but when the team returns from bye, it could have Cook and Diggs at full strength.
  • The Packers signed punter Drew Kaser yesterday, but the team is not moving on from incumbent J.K. Scott at this time, per ESPN.com. However, it is still an open question as to whether Scott will be punting against the Patriots tonight.
  • We learned earlier today that Ravens HC John Harbaugh is on the hot seat as the team faces a critical divisional matchup against Pittsburgh this afternoon.

Browns Fallout: Jackson, Staff, Mayfield

In firing Hue Jackson and Todd Haley, the Browns axed the top two voices behind their offense on Monday. This came after reports of friction between the two, accounts that turned out to be very real and ones that could’ve been envisioned for anyone who saw Hard Knocks.

The message today is we’re not going to put up with internal discord,” owner Jimmy Haslam said, via Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com. “… We had some concerns going into the game, obviously (Sunday’s) performance was disappointing. We had several of our key people involved in this conversations last night and this morning and did what we think’s best for the organization.”

Haslam said he met with John Dorsey on Sunday night, and actions came down Monday morning. Although Jackson went 1-31 in his first two seasons with the team, Haslam opted to give him a third year because the aggressive rebuild — put forth by former GM Sashi Brown — put Jackson in a “difficult spot” (Twitter link via Cabot). Gregg Williams was the only person the Browns considered to be the interim HC, Haslam said (per Nate Ulrich of ohio.com, on Twitter).

Some Browns began to question Jackson’s credibility, as a result of the third-year HC following through on his intent to give Haley autonomy to run the offense, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. After running the offense in 2016 and ’17, Jackson wasn’t nearly as involved this season. Jackson, in turn, was frustrated Haley would “do his own thing,” Breer adds. Jackson’s message grew stale as the losses mounted, per Yahoo’s Terez Paylor. This is obviously not uncommon for teams in losing situations, and that descriptor might not be strong enough to describe the state of the Browns under Haslam. The seventh-year owner’s now fired four head coaches, and the Browns have won more than five games just once under his watch.

Baker Mayfield‘s development shifts to front and center, and Breer notes the Jackson firing probably won’t bother the rookie quarterback much. They didn’t exactly see eye to eye, per Breer. Though, the No. 1 overall pick now has to finish a season without a proven offensive voice in the building and will have to learn a new offense in 2019.

Williams is technically still defensive coordinator, in addition to becoming a first-time head coach at age 60. But some around the league believe he will promote his son, Blake Williams, to that post, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Blake Williams has been Cleveland’s linebackers coach for two seasons.

As far as a possible Jackson/Williams successor, Breer points out Dorsey has “the highest respect” for what Iowa State coach Matt Campbell‘s done. Campbell, 38, is from the Cleveland area (Massillon, Ohio) as well. While Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley may well get a look, since he’d be a natural fit given his mentoring of Mayfield with the Sooners, he doesn’t envision leaving Oklahoma (video link). Gregg Williams will also be a candidate for the full-time job, Haslam said (via Cabot, on Twitter). But such a scenario would be hard to envision.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Notes: Manning, Giants, Cowboys, Packers, Redskins

Plenty of people criticized the Giants’ decision to take Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick. While Barkley has been electric, many people thought the opportunity to take one of this year’s class of quarterback prospects was too good to pass up. Eli Manning has struggled mightily this year, and the Giants now have no clear succession plan. Despite not drafting a quarterback early this year, New York “believed that somehow, some way, they’d find their heir apparent somewhere down the line”, according to Ralph Vacchiano of SNY.

Now that they might have to find that heir apparent earlier than expected, Vacchiano went through all the Giants’ options to find a quarterback of the future, including a trade before the deadline this year, free agency, and the draft. They have fourth round rookie Kyle Lauletta on the roster, and Vacchiano writes they must “absolutely take a look at him in a game this year.” One way or another, it looks like Manning’s days as the Giants’ starter are numbered.

Here’s more from the NFC:

  • There’s been growing frustration with Jason Garrett as coach of the Cowboys, especially after his decision to punt the ball away on 4th & 1 in overtime last week. While owner Jerry Jones and his son Stephen have insisted, Garret’s job isn’t in danger, “there’s been buzz in league circles indicating that the Joneses may eventually set their sights on Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley”, according to Albert Breer of SI.com.
  • Aaron Rodgers recently suffered a setback with his injured knee, but is looking to avoid going back to the bulky brace he had to wear initially, according to Rob Demovsky of ESPN. Rodgers re-injured the knee on a hit he took early in the Packers’ loss to the Lions last week. The game against Detroit was his first game without the large brace that made it harder for him to move around.
  • Josh Norman was benched to start the second half of the Redskins’ loss to the Saints on Monday night, and it apparently wasn’t about his play. “It was definitely something between Gruden and Norman that got a little heated and definitely not because of him getting beat in coverage”, according to John Keim of ESPN (Twitter link). Apparently Norman and coach Jay Gruden got into an altercation at halftime, and this will be an interesting situation to monitor going forward.

Extra Points: Tags, Riley, Cap, Panthers

The NFLPA seems unlikely to fight for the removal of the franchise/transition tag during the next collective bargaining agreement negotiations, tweets Dan Graziano of ESPN.com. As Graziano notes, players aren’t expected to “go to the mat” over an issue that will never affect the majority of the league. Franchise tags, of course, don’t prevent a player from leaving his incumbent team, but they do place serious restrictions on a player’s ability to navigate the open market. Any club wishing to sign a franchise player must sacrifice two first-round picks in order to do so. In 2018, just five players received a franchise tag, while one — Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller — was issued a transition tag.

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley‘s success at the collegiate level has led to speculation that he could eventually make the leap to the NFL level, and Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com reported earlier this year that pro teams were attempting to pick Riley’s brain. While that’s not surprising given the exciting offensive scheme run by the Sooners, Breer also noted NFL clubs could soon make overtures to the 34-year-old. However, Riley attempted to downplay any NFL interest earlier today, according to Jori Epstein of the Dallas Morning News“That got blown out of proportion a little bit,” said Riley, who took over for Bob Stoops in 2017. Riley currently earns $3.1MM annually as part of a contract that runs through 2022.
  • NFL teams aren’t using the uncertainty of the impending collective bargaining agreement negotiations to their benefit, as Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap tweets. The current CBA only runs through 2020, so clubs should be altering contracts that run past that season to use more current cap space, explains Fitzgerald. While the CBA now allows teams to carry over cap space each year, there’s no guarantee that provision will remain in the next agreement. Therefore, teams should be deploying all the cap space they can now before the rules possibly change.
  • The Panthers have announced several changes to their coaching staff, including the promotion of Richard Rodgers to secondary coach and Jeff Imamura to assistant secondary coach. Rodgers will replace Curtis Fuller, who resigned earlier this year following allegations of workplace misconduct. Formerly Carolina’s safeties coach, Rodgers had 23 years of collegiate experience under his belt before joining the Panthers in 2012. The Panthers ranked 11th in pass defense DVOA a season ago, meaning they were relatively efficient when compared to other NFL clubs.

Extra Points: Lincoln Riley, Prescott, AAF, Supplemental Draft

As one of the top coaches in college football, it was only a matter of time before Lincoln Riley started to be discussed as a potential NFL head coach. The discussion has already started after just a year as the coach of Oklahoma. NFL teams are fascinated by what Riley has done at Oklahoma and are flocking to Norman to pick his brain, according to Albert Breer of SI.com. Breer notes how the NFL is trending more and more toward college-style offenses, and that many of the concepts Riley has been implementing at Oklahoma since he became their coordinator in 2015 are already starting to become commonplace in the pro game.

Breer thinks that due to their interest in his schemes, NFL teams will eventually try to hire him, writing “it’s not hard to see NFL teams trying to pry him loose” from Oklahoma. When Breer asked Riley about it, he said it was “hard to say” and that “you can never say never” but added that “it’s hard to see myself ever leaving Oklahoma right now.” Whatever happens, Riley will be an interesting name to keep an eye on for future head coaching searches at the NFL level.

Here’s more from the football universe:

  • Dak Prescott changed agents, signing with Todd France of CAA, according to Clarence Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Hill notes Prescott needed to make the move now, since he’s eligible to sign a contract extension after this season. Cowboys brass has repeatedly made clear they plan to sign Prescott to a longterm mega-extension in the near future.
  • Randy Mueller will be named the new GM of the Salt Lake City AAF team, a source told Alex Marvez of Sporting News (Twitter link). Mueller is currently a senior executive with the Chargers. The AAF continues to poach talent away from the NFL as it ramps up its operations.
  • Supplemental Draft prospect Sam Beal “has a shot to be a second round claim” but Matt Miller of Bleacher Report hears he is “most likely” to be a third round pick (Twitter link). Beal, from Western Michigan, is one of three defensive backs with a shot at being taken in the Supplemental Draft, which will be held July 11th.