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Steelers Promote Randy Fichtner To OC

The Steelers have promoted quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner to offensive coordinator. The news was first reported by Chris Mortensen of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Randy Fichtner (vertical)

[RELATED: Ben Roethlisberger To Play 3 More Years?]

This was the anticipated outcome after the team allowed Todd Haley‘s contract to expire. Fichtner has a good working relationship with Ben Roethlisberger and the same could not be said for Big Ben and Haley. Given the rumblings of serious discord between the QB and Haley, it wouldn’t be surprising if Roethlisberger played a hand in the coaching switch.

Fichtner, 54, spent his career in the college ranks from 1986-2006. In 2007, he joined the Steelers as their wide receivers coach. In 2010, he was re-assigned as the QBs coach and held down that job for eight seasons. With a total of eleven years working alongside Mike Tomlin, Fichtner is well-versed in the Steelers’ way of doing things.

Former Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson was also said to be in the mix for the job.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Top 3 Offseason Needs: New York Jets

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the New York Jets, who were more competitive than expected in 2017.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Muhammad Wilkerson, DE: $20,000,000
  2. Kelvin Beachum, T: $9,500,000
  3. Buster Skrine, CB: $8,500,000
  4. Brian Winters, G: $7,000,000
  5. James Carpenter, G: $6,805,000
  6. Ben Ijalana, T: $6,000,000
  7. Leonard Williams, DT: $5,928,004
  8. Jamal Adams, S: $5,058,820
  9. Jermaine Kearse, WR: $5,000,000
  10. Bilal Powell, RB: $4,883,334

Other:

  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $74,579,406
  • Sixth pick in draft
  • Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for DT Leonard Williams

Three Needs:

Identify their next starting quarterback: Josh McCown did a solid job last year, but his contract expires in March and his 39th birthday is coming in July. Meanwhile, backups Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg stand as the Jets’ only QBs under contract. Petty, a Baylor product who was selected in Mike Maccagnan‘s first draft as GM, completed less than 50% of his passes upon taking over for McCown at the end of the season. Hackenberg, a second round pick in 2016, has yet to play a down of real NFL football.

It is possible that the Jets will look to re-sign McCown as their Week 1 starter after he turned in a handful of brilliant performances last year. In each of the Jets’ five wins, McCown completed more than 70% of his passes. He also helped Gang Green get out to a 14-0 lead over the Patriots in October before Tom Brady & Co. came roaring back to win by a final of 24-17. Still, that’s only a viable scenario if the Jets draft a promising but raw QB in April. Otherwise, the Jets will only consider keeping McCown as a high-priced backup, provided that he would be willing to serve in that capacity and the Jets can justify spending ~$7MM on a reserve.

The good news for the Jets is that this year’s potential free agent QB crop has a handful of quality options. With tons of cap room (though, not as much as some other teams have), you can expect the Jets to make a run at Kirk Cousins if he becomes available. The Redskins reserve the right to hit him with a third consecutive franchise tag or this could be the offseason that they finally give him the lucrative long-term contract that he’s looking for. But, if the Redskins allow him to test the open market or even the restricted market, the Jets won’t hesitate to get in on the bidding. This past season was not Cousins’ finest, but he has shown that he can be a backend top-10 signal caller when surrounded with the right personnel. If he reaches free agency, he’ll be the best QB up for grabs in years. 

The Chiefs are expected to move on from Alex Smith this year and if they can’t find a viable trade for him, they might release him outright. Adding Smith wouldn’t be as sexy of a move as signing Cousins, but Smith did lead the Chiefs to the postseason when many expected him to crash and make way for Patrick Mahomes. You also might be surprised to learn that Smith graded out as Pro Football Focus’ sixth-best quarterback of the season, tying him with Russell Wilson and putting him ahead of Jimmy Garoppolo, Aaron Rodgers, and Matthew Stafford.

Case Keenum, PFF’s No. 8 ranked QB, shocked the world with his performance this year and he just might help the Vikings reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 1976. It’s hard to imagine Minnesota letting him get away at this point, but if he’s out there, the Jets will at least put feelers out for him. Of course, the clear downside with Keenum is that he accomplished very little before this season. Has Keenum, almost 30, finally come into his own? Or was his success the product of Pat Shurmur‘s system? On the plus side, Keenum looks the part of a postseason winner in this limited sample, something that could not necessarily be said for Smith. Smith is 2-5 in his playoff career with his last postseason W coming in 2015.

Beyond those three, there are some intriguing, yet risky, QBs who could be available. Teddy Bridgewater looked the part of a rising star in his first two NFL seasons, but he has not seen real playing time since the end of the 2015 campaign. Tyrod Taylor, at times, has looked the part of a legitimate NFL starter, but he would be more of a bridge option than anything for the Jets. Ditto for Bridgewater’s teammate, Sam Bradford, who is also scheduled to reach free agency in March.

Although he’s largely untested, QB-needy teams like the Jets will be keeping an eye A.J. McCarron‘s grievance case. If he wins, the Bengals QB will go from an restricted free agent to a UFA, allowing him to finally cash in and get his opportunity as a starter. It’s unclear how the Jets’ decision makers feel about McCarron, but the Browns’ old regime was willing to part with a second-round pick and a third-round pick to land him before the trade deadline.

Technically speaking, Drew Brees is also slated to be a part of this group, but he is widely expected to remain with New Orleans. Other big names like Eli Manning might become available, but the Jets have gotten an up close look at the two-time Super Bowl champ and are certainly aware of his sharp decline. There’s no scenario in which the Jets would sign Manning to be their starter for multiple seasons, nor is there a scenario in which Manning agrees to groom a top draft pick only to step out of the way during the season.

Sam Darnold (Featured)Armed with the No. 6 pick, the Jets will have a crack at this year’s best quarterbacks, though they would have to get ahead of the Giants at No. 2 in order to have their pick of the litter. Despite their hiccups in 2017, USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen remain the top arms in this year’s class with Darnold representing the perceived safer choice and Rosen possibly having the higher ceiling. If the Jets stay at No. 6 and miss out on both, they could entertain the likes of Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, and Lamar Jackson.

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Top 3 Offseason Needs: Cincinnati Bengals

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll begin this year’s series with the Cincinnati Bengals, who posted a 7-9 record and finished third in the AFC North a season ago.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Andy Dalton, QB: $16,300,000
  2. A.J. Green, WR: $13,750,000
  3. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB: $9,600,000
  4. Geno Atkins, DT: $9,550,000
  5. Vontaze Burfict, LB: $9,510,000
  6. Darqueze Dennard, CB: $8,526,000
  7. Carlos Dunlap, DE: $7,300,000
  8. Adam Jones, CB: $6,666,668
  9. George Iloka, S: $6,200,000
  10. Michael Johnson, DE: $6,125,000

Other:

  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $37,436,799
  • 12th pick in draft
  • Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for T Cedric Ogbuehi

Three Needs:

1) Offensive line, offensive line, offensive line: The Bengals’ recent dip in performance — the club made five consecutive postseason appearances from 2011-15 before slipping below .500 in each of the past two years — was presaged during the 2015 draft, when Cincinnati used its first two selections on a pair of offensive linemen: Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher. Given that starting linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler were scheduled to hit free agency after the 2016 campaign, the Bengals were planning ahead by envisioning a future starting five full of youth.Cedric Ogbuehi (Vertical)

That scheme has failed spectacularly: Ogbuehi has graded as a bottom-10 tackle in each of his two years as a starter, per Pro Football Focus, while Fisher hasn’t played more than 38% of Cincinnati’s offensive snaps in any of his three pro seasons. Russell Bodine continued his run as one of the worst starting centers in the NFL, Clint Boling settled in as a league-average left guard, and the Bengals relied on Andre Smith — in his second stint with the club — to play more than half their snaps. Cincinnati bottomed out in Football Outsiders‘ offensive line rankings, finishing 20th in adjusted sack rate and 24th in adjusted line yards.

Revamping an offensive line in a single offseason seems like a daunting task, but other clubs have managed the feat in the recent past. The Rams signed Whitworth and fellow aged veteran John Sullivan last spring and instantly fielded one of the the best front fives in the league. Same goes for the Vikings, who inked tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers and drafted center Pat Elflein. As a condition of his return as head coach, Marvin Lewis indicated owner Mike Brown is open to spending in free agency — something the Bengals rarely do — so additions could be on the horizon.

The free agent crop of offensive tackles is barren, however, meaning Cincinnati isn’t likely to find a blindside protector on the open market. Nate Solder is the clear No. 1 option available among free agent tackles, and two other Patriots — Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle — comprise the next best choices among an uninspiring group. Fleming, still just 25 years old and a consistent blocker over the past two seasons, could be an intriguing solution for the Bengals, but a draft choice seems like a more palatable route as the club seeks front five patches.

Drafting another first-round offensive tackle would represent an admission that the Ogbuehi selection has been a failure, and it’s time for Cincinnati to cop to that mistake. Texas’ Connor Williams is considered the top tackle available in 2018, according to Scouts Inc. (ESPN Insider subscription required), while Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey or Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown could also be in consideration. In his first mock draft of the year, Todd McShay of ESPN.com sent Williams to the Bengals in the first round.

Justin Pugh (vertical)While the Bengals may not be able to find a suitable tackle during the free agent period, there are a number of interesting interior offensive linemen with expiring contracts. Giants lineman Justin Pugh would seem to be a perfect match for Cincinnati, as the former first-round pick can handle either tackle or guard, giving the Bengals flexibility as they sort out their front unit. Pugh will be expensive (he’ll likely earn in excess of $10MM annually), as will the Panthers’ Andrew Norwell, the top guard available. Pugh’s New York teammate, center Weston Richburg, could also be on the Bengals’ radar if they want a massive upgrade over Bodine.

If Cincinnati wants to spend in the middle of the market as opposed to the top, it could target a few ex-Cowboys, especially given that it just hired former Dallas offensive line coach Frank Pollack. Like Pugh, veteran Byron Bell has the ability to play tackle and guard, while interior lineman Jonathan Cooper also has recent experience with Pollack. Other mid-tier free agent options could include Ryan Jensen (Ravens), Josh Kline (Titans), Daniel Kilgore (49ers), Alex Boone (Cardinals), and Matt Slauson (Chargers).

Restricted free agency is a rarely-used player acquisition avenue for NFL teams (just three RFAs signed offer sheets in 2017), but the Bengals would do well to assess the RFA market in the coming weeks. Broncos center Matt Paradis is hitting restricted free agency after three solid seasons in Denver, but general manager John Elway will likely use at least a second-round tender on Paradis, making him cost prohibitive. Titans guard Quinton Spain, however, has been quietly competent as a starter from 2016-17, and isn’t certain to require anything more than an original round tender, making him a potential Cincinnati target.

2) Bring back Tyler Eifert, or find a new tight end: Eifert has long been referred to as “Rob Gronkowski Lite,” as the two share a penchant for red zone touchdowns, wear similar arm braces, and — unfortunately — struggle to deal with injuries. Through five NFL seasons, Eifert has appeared in less than 50% of the Bengals’ games (39 of 80) and has never played a full 16-game slate. In 2017, Eifert underwent back surgery and was placed on injured reserve after just two contests, so a long-term deal is likely out of the question given his recent injury history.Tyler Eifert (Vertical)

If the Bengals do re-sign Eifert, it will likely be a one- or two-year deal that is heavily laden with per-game roster bonuses, meaning Eifert would have a significant amount of money riding on his health. For that reason, I’d expect Eifert to land elsewhere and sign with a club that will insert performance-based incentive language into his next contract (something Cincinnati typically won’t do). As a last-ditch option, the Bengals could consider deploying the franchise tag on Eifert, but that would require a commitment north of $10MM.

With Eifert sidelined, backup tight end Tyler Kroft posted the best season of his three-year career by managing 42 receptions for 404 yards and seven touchdowns (the latter figure was good for sixth among NFL tight ends). The Bengals could certainly head into the 2018 campaign with Kroft as their starting tight end, but it’s not out of the question that the club pursues an upgrade. Depth behind Kroft is also an issue, as C.J. Uzomah, Cethan Carter, FB/TE hybrid Ryan Hewitt, and rookie Mason Schreck combined to play just 368 snaps in 2017.

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Jets Fire Offensive Coordinator John Morton

John Morton is out as offensive coordinator of the Jets, according to Manish Mehta of the Daily News (on Twitter). The Jets were hoping that Morton would be hired away by another team, but that never happened. Instead, the well-liked Morton has been pushed out. John Morton (vertical)

Under Morton’s watch, the Jets finished 28th in total yards, 19th in rushing yards, and 24th in both scoring and passing yards. Overall, however, the Jets’ offense performed better than most expected.

Quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates is a strong candidate to take over his job, but nothing has been finalized just yet. Former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley could also be a candidate for the position, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter).

It has been rumored that Bates is the Jets’ preferred choice for the OC job, but he has indicated to the team that he is not interested in the position. It’s possible that Bates could have a change of heart if the Jets are willing to pay him more than the average OC.

Another name to keep an eye on is Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo. DeFilippo was the Jets’ top choice to replace Chan Gailey last year before Philly blocked the interview request, according to an earlier report from Mehta. However, DeFilippo could be in play for a head coaching position this offseason and figures to have several other offensive coordinator opportunities.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers To Hire New Offensive Coordinator

The Steelers are allowing offensive coordinator Todd Haley to walk now that his contract has expired, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter). The team will now look to hire a new OC. Todd Haley (vertical)

[RELATED: Ben Roethlisberger To Play 3 More Years?]

The Steelers may have a couple of in-house candidates to replace Haley. One is quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner, who was previously assigned to act as a “buffer” between Ben Roethlisberger and Haley on the sidelines. The other is offensive line coach Mike Munchak, who appears to have withdrawn his name from consideration for the Cardinals’ head coaching vacancy.

On the whole, Haley’s offense has been a success in Pittsburgh, but his bickering with Big Ben and off-the-field incidents have tested the patience of his superiors. Haley’s latest unfortunate headline came when he suffered a shattered pelvis during a barroom brawl on New Year’s Eve.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Seahawks Fire DC Kris Richard

In a move that should come as no surprise given that the Seahawks hired a new defensive coordinator in Ken Norton Jr. on Monday, Seattle has fired ex-DC Kris Richard, the club announced today. The Seahawks also parted ways with assistant head coach/linebackers Michael Barrow.Kris Richard (vertical)

Reports last week indicated that Seattle was prepared to move on from Richard, with head coach Pete Carroll reportedly suggesting Richard should develop further as a coach elsewhere. Richard is clearly held in high regard throughout the NFL, as he garnered a head coaching interview with the Colts earlier this month. Indianapolis is closing in on Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as its next head coach, so Richard won’t have a viable opportunity with the Colts going forward.

Richard could conceivably receive further interest as a head coach from other clubs, but it seems unlikely that teams will add a new candidate to their respective searches at this late stage. More likely, Richard will have the chance to resurface as a defensive coordinator with another team. As PFR’s 2018 Coordinator Tracker shows, there are currently no DC vacancies around the league, but a few more spots should open as new head coaches are hired.

Richard, 38, was named Seattle’s defensive coordinator in 2015 after spending five years as a defensive assistant with the club. While directing the Legion of Boom, Richard helped the Seahawks finish fourth, fifth, and 13th in DVOA in his three years as play-caller. That dip in 2017 coincided with a number of injuries on the defensive side of the ball, but may have also convinced Carroll & Co. to bring in a fresh voice.

Seattle has committed to a fresh start from a coaching standpoint, as the club has now fired its top four assistants, including two from each unit: Richard and Barrow on defense, plus offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Drew Brees Not Planning To Test Market

Drew Brees is scheduled to reach free agency in March and could potentially cash in on the open market. However, Brees sounds inclined to sign a new deal with the Saints before the new league year begins on March 14. Drew Brees (vertical)

I’m not in the mood to make anything secretive,” Brees said. “It’s the same way I felt two days ago. It’s the same way I felt 12 years ago. That is that I’ll be here as long as they’ll have me, hopefully.”

Few expected Brees to leave the Saints this offseason, but it’s surprising to hear Brees dismiss the idea of at least testing free agency. If Brees signs an extension without collecting offers from suitors, he could be leaving significant money on the table. Then again, Brees already has nearly $200MM in NFL earnings to his credit, so getting top dollar is not a priority for him. Instead, it sounds like Brees – who turned 39 on Monday – would prefer to return to the Saints for a shot at another Super Bowl ring without uprooting his family.

The Super Bowl XLIV MVP could have been in line for another championship appearance if not for last week’s Minneapolis Miracle. Brees had another spectacular season in 2017, finishing out with a league-high 72.0% completion rate and 7.53 yards per passing attempt. After earning his eleventh career Pro Bowl nod, the veteran is showing no signs of slowing down.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Browns Interview Ben McAdoo

The Browns are interviewing former Giants coach Ben McAdoo for their offensive coordinator vacancy, according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com (on Twitter). McAdoo has a history with new GM John Dorsey, which could make him a favorite for the position. Ben McAdoo

After an ugly final season in New York, McAdoo must rebuild his stock before he can be considered for another head coaching job. While his ability to lead a locker room has been questioned, his offensive acumen and play-calling ability is what got him the Giants’ top job in the first place. Hue Jackson is finally ready to allow someone else to call plays and McAdoo would seem to be a strong candidate to take over.

McAdoo was the Giants’ offensive coordinator in 2014 and 2015. In 2016, he took over as head coach when the team pushed out Tom Coughlin. He started off with an 11-5 season, but he was sacked this year when the team had amassed only two wins through December. In McAdoo’s defense, he wasn’t left with much to work with on offense when the team’s top receivers all suffered serious injuries at the start of the year.

Fired Titans coach Mike Mularkey is also in the mix for the job and Texans quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan recently interviewed with Jackson for the position.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Colts Expected To Hire Matt Eberflus As DC

After seven seasons as the Cowboys’ linebackers coach, Matt Eberflus is set to receive his first coordinator opportunity.

Once Josh McDaniels officially takes the Colts’ reins, he’s expected to bring Eberflus with him as his defensive coordinator, Tom Pelissero of NFL.com reports (on Twitter). Eberflus is a coaching free agent, so the Cowboys won’t be able to block this hire.

Eberflus also spent two seasons coaching the Browns’ linebackers. He’ll ascend to a DC position under McDaniels. SI.com’s Albert Breer reported this likely chain of events last week.

While the coaches have not worked together on an NFL staff, they are both Ohio natives, with Eberflus hailing from Toledo and McDaniels (son of a high school coach) growing up around the Cleveland area. Working under Rod Marinelli in recent years, Eberflus has coached Sean Lee for most of his career.

He’ll have a chance to oversee the development of a young Colts linebacking contingent. The Cowboys have run a 4-3 scheme under Marinelli, while the Colts have used a 3-4 look for the past several seasons. It will be interesting to see if they convert back to a 4-3 look under Eberflus.

Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk writes Eberflus, who took on the responsibility of passing-game coordinator in 2016, looked to be in line to succeed Marinelli in running Dallas’ defense. The Cowboys have lost several assistants this offseason.

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Josh McDaniels Expected To Choose Colts

Although a report emerged on Sunday indicating the Colts were moving forward with Josh McDaniels as their head coach, the Titans’ firing muddied those plans. But it looks like that will be a momentary blip.

McDaniels is expected to choose the Colts and become their head coach, Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero of NFL.com report (Twitter link). This will come after the Titans — and former McDaniels Patriots colleague Jon Robinson — were expressing interest.

No offer has been made, Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star notes (on Twitter), but he adds the Colts don’t appear to be nervous about the Titans’ late entrance into this race. The Colts cannot formally offer McDaniels this job until the Patriots’ season concludes.

However, the Colts and McDaniels have been connected to going forward together since late last week when he and Texans first-year DC Mike Vrabel became the finalists for this position. McDaniels has 10 years of OC experience (nine with the Patriots and one with the Rams) and was the Broncos’ head coach for most of the 2009-10 seasons. Although that partnership did not work out, McDaniels has continued to churn out top-tier offenses in New England.

While the 41-year-old OC has enjoyed the benefit of having one of the greatest quarterbacks off all time around which to center his offense, Tom Brady has also done his best work under McDaniels. Prior to McDaniels taking over as Patriots OC in 2006, Brady had one 4,000-yard passing season and had never thrown more than 28 TD passes in a campaign. While Brady thrived under Bill O’Brien while McDaniels was in Denver and St. Louis, he’s maintained top-level play at an age when most quarterbacks have retired slowed down.

McDaniels interviewed with the Colts, Bears and Giants — and as of Monday morning was still in contention for the Giants’ job. But Chicago went with former Chiefs OC Matt Nagy, and the Giants are expected to offer their HC job to Pat Shurmur. The Titans entered the race late but were not believed to be a serious Colts threat. Chris Ballard and his likely HC hire share an agent in Bob LaMonte, and have a “strong relationship” — per Rapoport (on Twitter).

McDaniels will be the person tasked with restoring Andrew Luck as one of the NFL’s premier quarterbacks.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.