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George Paton Out Of Browns’ GM Search

Viewed as the frontrunner to become the Browns’ next general manager, George Paton removed his name from consideration for the position, Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports (on Twitter).

The Vikings’ assistant GM spent time in Cleveland this week going through a second interview, one that was expected to lead to his joining Kevin Stefanski as the key members of the next Browns power structure. But an organization that has struggled to form continuity under its current ownership will now have to make another plan.

Paton’s withdrawal partially stems from an uncertainty about how the Browns would divvy up power, Cabot adds. The GM, Stefanski and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta are set to report to owner Jimmy Haslam. The Browns operated that way during the Sashi BrownHue Jackson years and are set to return to that arrangement.

A 13-year Vikings executive, Paton has turned down multiple teams who have sought meetings with him for GM vacancies. The selective exec was initially contemplating doing the same to the Browns. His apprehension stemmed from former Browns front office staffer Andrew Berry‘s relationship with Haslam potentially making him the favorite for the job, but Paton took a meeting with Browns ownership because of Stefanski’s presence.

Berry is again the leading candidate for the job, Cabot reports. The Eagles exec is eager to prove he is not a “1-31 football GM,” according to TheLandonDemand.com’s Tony Grossi (Twitter link). It appears Berry is still interested in returning to Cleveland. Berry, who joined Paton and Patriots exec Monti Ossenfort in interviewing for the Browns’ GM role, spent 2016-18 with the Browns before joining the Eagles as VP of football operations last year.

Berry has received interest from the Panthers as well, but the Eagles blocked him interviewing for a non-GM job with Carolina. One of Sashi Brown‘s top lieutenants during the Browns’ new-age front office experiment, Berry remains close to DePodesta. The ex-MLB GM is running the Browns’ GM search. Stefanski and Berry also became acquainted during the Browns’ 2019 coaching search, and Cabot notes the two are still interested in working together.

While the Brown-DePodesta-Berry experiment produced historically terrible results — a 1-31 record from 2016-17 — Haslam retaining DePodesta and bringing Berry back in for an interview confirm the owner remains interested in this analytically geared vision.

The Browns have gone through amazing front office turnover under Haslam. Their most recent regime change involved parting ways with John Dorsey after barely two years. Brown received less time. So did the Michael LombardiJoe Banner power structure. Ray Farmer also did not get two full years on job. Haslam fired Tom Heckert, GM from 2010-12, in his first months as owner.

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Antonio Brown Surrenders To Police

Jan. 23rd: TMZ Sports reports that Brown surrendered to police on Thursday night. The embattled wideout turned himself into Broward County Jail after an arrest warrant was issued on Wednesday.

Jan. 22nd: Another day, another Antonio Brown story. Following a confrontation at his home on Tuesday, the Hollywood, Florida Police Department issued an arrest warrant for the star wideout this evening (via Andy Slater of Fox Sports 640 on Twitter). The active warrant is for burglary with battery.

We learned yesterday that Florida police were investigating Brown for possible battery at his home. A moving truck driver accused Brown and trainer Glen Holt of battery, with Holt later getting arrested on one count of burglary with battery. Brown refused to speak with police officers, locking himself inside his home.

Brown has been out of the NFL since being dropped by the Patriots midway through the 2019 season, but he hasn’t been absent from the news cycle. Most recently, Brown broadcasted a profanity-laced argument with police officers and the mother of one of his children. Soon after, longtime agent and ally Drew Rosenhaus dropped him and said that he would only resume the relationship if Brown made wholesale changes to his life.

Amid the most recent fiascos, consistent (and bizarre) social media rants, and multiple accusations of sexual assault, Brown has sat in indefinite limbo by the league office. We heard yesterday that the NFL was monitoring this most-recent situation, and the inevitable arrest will be included in the league’s ongoing investigation of the former All-Pro wide receiver.

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Eli Manning To Retire

Giants icon Eli Manning will hold a news conference on Friday to announce his retirement, per ESPN’s Dan Graziano and Jordan Raanan (Twitter link). Unwilling to finish his career as a backup, Manning will walk away from the sport and focus on new endeavors. 

Manning, 39, got the hook from the Giants on multiple occasions. The first time around, in 2017, he was briefly benched for one game in favor of Geno Smith. This year, he lost his job to rookie Daniel Jones and never regained his footing. The Giants’ struggles continued throughout the season, but it was an easy call for the G-Men to anoint Jones as their starter moving forward.

Things didn’t end the way Manning envisioned, but he leaves the sport after a storied NFL career that will surely land him in Canton, once he’s eligible. Manning had lots of highs across his 16-year career (and, some lows), but he’ll forever be remembered as a two-time Super Bowl winner and MVP. He’s also etched in the record books – he’s seventh all-time in passing yards, touchdowns, and completions. Another impressive feat – Manning never once missed a start due to injury.

Manning has long ranked as one of the league’s highest-paid players, too. He’s earned more than a quarter-billion dollars in football, not including endorsement money.

Manning entered the league as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft. The Ole Miss star famously refused to play for the Chargers and forced a trade to the Giants, where he established himself as a global superstar and stepped out of his older brother’s shadow. He’s foiled the Patriots twice, sold countless jerseys in the tri-state area, and forged a legacy that will last for decades.

For 16 seasons, Eli Manning defined what it is to be a New York Giant both on and off the field,” John Mara, the Giants’ president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Eli is our only two-time Super Bowl MVP and one of the very best players in our franchise’s history. He represented our franchise as a consummate professional with dignity and accountability. It meant something to Eli to be the Giants quarterback, and it meant even more to us. We are beyond grateful for his contributions to our organization and look forward to celebrating his induction into the Giants Ring of Honor in the near future.

It remains to be seen whether Manning will stay involved in football. The Giants have expressed interest in giving Manning a non-playing role, but that would likely come in the form of a front office position – Manning has indicated that he is not interested in a coaching career.

I learned very early that you evaluate quarterbacks on their ability to win championships, and to do it late in a game when the game is on the line, that they’re able to take a team down the field and into the end zone to win a title,” said longtime Giants GM Ernie Accorsi said. “The second thing is to know that over a period of years, he’s always going to be there. Those kinds of quarterbacks always give you a chance to win, and for 16 years, he did that for this franchise. He won championships and he was always there giving us a chance to win. I don’t know how you can ask more from a quarterback.”

Jaguars Hire Jay Gruden As OC

Jay Gruden‘s interview with the Jaguars ended up leading to a job offer. The former Redskins head coach has been hired as Jacksonville’s new offensive coordinator, the team announced. Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL.com reported yesterday (via Twitter) that this was the expected outcome.

Gruden joined ex-Giants HC Ben McAdoo and ex-Rams HC and Cowboys OC Scott Linehan in interviewing for this post. The Redskins set several passing records during Gruden’s years with Kirk Cousins and were in first place in the NFC East when Alex Smith went down with the severe leg injury that harpooned Washington’s 2018 season. The Redskins ranked 10th in scoring in their 2015 playoff season and were third in total offense a year later.

Despite Marrone entering his fourth season as the Jags’ full-time head coach, this has not been a stable position in recent years. The Jags fired Nathaniel Hackett late in the 2018 season and will make John DeFilippo a one-and-done in the OC role. With Marrone avoiding the ouster many expected, Gruden’s work with Nick Foles and Gardner Minshew will be critical to this regime staying in place. Gruden also figures to be auditioning for a future HC job.

The Redskins fired Gruden after an 0-5 start to his sixth season. He clashed with ownership and since-fired team president Bruce Allen on the drafting of Dwayne Haskins but has a history in helping young quarterbacks. Gruden was in his first year as Cincinnati’s OC when the team traded Carson Palmer and pivoted to rookie Andy Dalton. The Bengals made the playoffs from 2011-13 and were a top-10 scoring offense in the ’12 and ’13 campaigns. Minshew, who is set to compete with Foles this offseason, will be his next project.

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Giants To Hire Jason Garrett As OC

Jason Garrett wasn’t out of a job too long. The Giants are planning to hire Garrett as their new offensive coordinator, a source told Ed Werder of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

Garrett staying in the division and getting to face the Cowboys twice a year will provide a lot of drama and entertainment, if nothing else. Garrett met with Giants brass a couple of days ago, and apparently everything went well. He caught a lot of flak his last few years in Dallas, but he will be a solid veteran presence to lean on for rookie head coach Joe Judge in New York.

Garrett, who played quarterback in the league for nearly 15 years, will now be tasked with helping to develop Daniel Jones. He spent four years with the Giants as a backup, so this is a homecoming of sorts for him. He’ll surely be excited about the opportunity to take on Jerry Jones and his old team. He started his coaching career as the quarterbacks coach with the Dolphins for a couple of years before moving on to Dallas.

Garrett went a perfect 6-0 against the Giants the past three years, which couldn’t have hurt his cause with New York’s ownership. He was the offensive coordinator for the Cowboys for four seasons before serving as head coach for the past nine. Still only 53, the 2016 NFL Coach of the Year surely has his sights set on becoming a head coach again sometime in the near future. If he can get Jones to take the next step and develop like Dak Prescott did, that opportunity could come relatively soon.

The Giants are entering a new era of football, as they finally appear set to move on from Eli Manning. They fired Pat Shurmur after the season ended and brought in Judge, the Patriots’ receivers/special teams coach, to replace him. Judge’s staff is starting to fill out, as he already hired away defensive coordinator Patrick Graham from the Dolphins. We heard earlier today the Giants were planning on speaking with Scott Linehan, who worked under Garrett as his OC in Dallas. A reunion could be in the works there.

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Drew Rosenhaus Parts Ways With Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown is without an NFL team and without an agent. On Thursday, agent Drew Rosenhaus “conditionally” dropped the wide receiver as a client (Twitter link via Adam Schefter of ESPN.com). 

Rosenhaus informed the NFLPA of his decision in a letter, explaining that he will not represent Brown until he seeks counsel. The agent says he would like to work with Brown, but he will not do so unless he gets help.

Brown, clearly, has bigger fish to fry before he resumes his focus on the NFL. Since being placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, Brown has made a number of bizarre posts on social media, ranging from unprofessional to downright scary. Most recently, he broadcasted a profanity-laced argument with police officers and the mother of one of his children.

Rosenhaus has fought Brown’s battles in radio interviews over the past few months, expressing his frustration with the league’s slow-moving investigation that has kept Brown in a holding pattern. At this point, the NFL has no real motivation to hurry things up and it’s unlikely that Roger Goodell wants Brown back on the field as he continues to find off-the-field trouble.

For many years, Brown was the focal point of the Steelers’ passing attack and one of the league’s very best wide receivers. Things deteriorated over time, however, leading him to the Raiders. The late summer drama over Brown’s helmet and his willingness to play now seems like a distant memory. Since then, Brown has faced multiple accusations of sexual assault, been released by the Patriots, and placed in indefinite limbo by a sport that doesn’t know exactly what to do with him.

In spite of all of this, teams expressed interest in signing Brown, pending the outcome of the NFL’s investigation. The Saints worked Brown out just a few weeks ago, then passed on him. Brown, who came to the audition flanked by an entire camera crew, later accused the Saints of working him out as a publicity stunt.

Brown has now lost one of his biggest allies and it’s clear that he’ll have to make wholesale changes to his life before he can get anywhere near the field again.

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Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald To Return

Retirement can wait. On Wednesday, Larry Fitzgerald agreed to a new one-year deal with the Cardinals, setting the stage for his 17th season in Arizona.

The new deal mirrors Fitzgerald’s 2019 pact. No. 11 will earn a base salary of $11MM for the fifth-straight year, as Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. He’ll also see a roster bonuses of $500K with $250K in additional incentives.

Fitzgerald, the NFL’s oldest active wide receiver, was on the fence about playing in 2020. At the same time, he admitted that he had more fun this past season than in previous seasons.

Fitzgerald led the Cardinals with 804 receiving yards and did not miss a game for the fifth straight campaign. With that, the 36-year-old future Hall of Famer will lace ’em up for at least one more year.

Fitzgerald entered the league as a first-round pick in 2004. Since then, he’s reached the Pro Bowl eleven times and, last year, he moved into second place on the NFL’s all-time receptions list, slotting him between Jerry Rice and Tony Gonzalez. He’s also No. 2 in receiving yards, second only to Rice.

The Cardinals are coming off of a trying 5-10-1 season, but there’s reason for hope, including star quarterback Kyler Murray. They can also carve out as much as $74MM for free agents in March and add another impact player with the No. 8 overall pick in April.

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Luke Kuechly Announces Retirement

One of this era’s defining defenders, Luke Kuechly delivered a stunner Tuesday night. The perennial All-Pro announced his retirement at age 28.

Kuechly made his seventh straight Pro Bowl this season and is a five-time first-team All-Pro. The 28-year-old linebacker has dealt with concussions for years. He suffered three from 2015-17. While Kuechly is not the first to retire early due to health issues in recent years, he is one of the highest-profile players to step away early in modern NFL history.

While Kuechly did not miss any time from 2018-19, the former first-round pick indicated he had considered retirement for a while. The Cincinnati native said he wants to continue playing but knows coming back for a ninth season would not have been the best course of action.

In my heart I know it’s the right thing to do,” Kuechly said (video link). “… There’s only one way to play this game since I was a little kid – play fast, play physical and play strong. And at this point I don’t know if I am able to do that anymore.”

One of the best players in the Panthers’ 25-year history, Kuechly has anchored Carolina defenses since being selected in the 2012 first round. He started all 118 games in which he played and led the Panthers to four playoff berths from 2013-17. Kuechly broke up J.J. Watt‘s string of defensive player of the year honors, winning the award in 2013. Two years later, he spearheaded Carolina’s 15-1 season and run to Super Bowl 50. Kuechly tore one of his shoulder labrums late that season but played through the injury and started in each of Carolina’s three playoff games, making 10 tackles and sacking Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl. But concussion issues obviously overshadow any other malady the Boston College product overcame.

The Panthers middle linebacker missed three games because of his 2015 concussion and one after suffering a head injury in 2017. However, the concussion he suffered on national television in November 2016 ended his season and indicated this may well be a long-term concern for the stalwart defender. While Kuechly racked up two All-Pro seasons after that hiatus, he will prioritize his health instead of playing into his 30s.

No linebacker whose career began in the 21st century has more first-team All-Pro honors than Kuechly’s five. Patrick Willis, who also opted to leave the game after eight seasons, accumulated five such distinctions. Bobby Wagner, who joined Kuechly in the 2012 draft, does as well. No other Panthers player earned more than two first-team All-Pro honors. Kuechly began his career with three 150-tackle seasons and will finish with 1,092 — the most in the NFL since 2012. He added 18 interceptions — the most among linebackers since 2012. He will almost certainly end up in the Hall of Fame.

Two years remained on Kuechly’s five-year, $61.8MM contract. Agreed to in 2015, Kuechly’s deal represented the standard for off-ball linebackers for a time. C.J. Mosley and Wagner transformed that market in 2019, and Kuechly could have been expected to top his peers’ $17MM-plus-AAV deals if he chose to. Instead, he will walk away from a $10.3MM salary in 2020.

The Panthers will have seen their longtime linebacker tandem of Kuechly and Thomas Davis depart in consecutive years. The team recently gave Shaq Thompson a lucrative extension; the 2015 first-round pick will slide into a centerpiece role for Matt Rhule‘s team.

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Panthers To Hire LSU’s Joe Brady As OC

Joe Burrow‘s transcendent season may well have opened the door to a major opportunity for LSU’s passing-game coordinator and wide receivers coach. Joe Brady has informed people Tuesday he plans to join Matt Rhule‘s Panthers staff, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports (on Twitter). This move will make Brady the Panthers’ new offensive coordinator, Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic tweets.

The Panthers were linked to the 30-year-old LSU assistant for their offensive coordinator role recently. Brady agreed to an LSU extension, but that deal will not stand to impede a return to the NFL. This would mark a return to the NFL for Brady, who served as a Saints offensive assistant from 2017-18.

Originally linked to an OC role if Ravens DC Don “Wink” Martindale landed a coaching job, Brady will instead follow Rhule to Charlotte and become the NFL’s youngest active OC. Brady’s stay at LSU produced one of the most dominant seasons in college football history, with Burrow throwing an astounding 60 touchdown passes (against only six interceptions). Not traditionally known for their passing attack despite employing some top-flight receiver prospects, LSU stampeded through a brutal schedule to a national championship.

The Tigers’ wideouts thrived under Brady, with both Ja’Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson eclipsing 1,500 yards. Chase, a potential 2021 first-round pick, caught 20 touchdown passes. Jefferson, who is eligible for the 2020 draft, was not far behind with 18. Neither Odell Beckham Jr. nor Jarvis Landry surpassed 10 TDs in a season with the Tigers. Twelve more than any Division I-FBS quarterback threw this season, Burrow’s 60 TD passes would have ranked second to any LSU quarterback’s career total.

This will represent a big jump for Brady, who has never been a coordinator at any level. Prior to joining Sean Payton‘s staff three years ago, the former William & Mary wide receiver’s highest coaching rank was as a Penn State graduate assistant. He is now expected to be Carolina’s second coordinator from the college ranks, joining former Baylor DC Phil Snow.

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Antonio Gates Announces Retirement

Antonio Gates is calling it a career. On Tuesday, the Chargers legend announced his retirement from the NFL.

[RELATED: Chargers To Keep OC Shane Steichen]

I never dreamed that I would play this game of football so long or how fortunate I would be to play it with just one organization,” the tight end said. “I want to thank the Chargers organization, the National Football League, Dean Spanos and the Spanos family for the opportunity to live out a dream and play the game I love.”

Gates, 39, did not suit up last year. Before that, he spent 16 straight seasons with the Chargers and built a reputation as one of the league’s most dangerous tight ends.

Between 2004 and 2011, Gates racked up eight straight Pro Bowl nods and three First-Team All-Pro selections. He topped 1,100 receiving yards twice (2005 and 2009) and flirted with the 1,000-yard mark in 2004, 2006, and 2007. He gave opposing defenses fits in his 30s, too. In 2013, in his age-33 season, he caught 77 passes for 872 yards.

Gates was a star on Kent State’s basketball team, but did not play football in college. When scouts told him he was too small to play power forward in the NBA, the 6’4″ athlete set his sights on the NFL. The Chargers signed him as as undrafted free agent in 2003 and he managed to go from third-stringer to starter as a rookie.

After tallying 955 receptions, 11,841 yards, and 116 touchdowns, Gates is walking away from the sport. He’ll become eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2023 and, in all likelihood, enter Canton as a first-ballot nominee.

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