Bryan Cox

NFC Coaching Notes: Nielsen, Vikings, Giants

The Saints promoted from within to fill their head coach position and halted their offensive coordinator search to keep Pete Carmichael in that role. Their other top staff job may involve a similar process. Defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen is a candidate to take over as defensive coordinator, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com notes. Nielsen, 42, has been with the Saints for the past five seasons, each as the team’s D-line coach. Nielsen has DC experience, but it came at the mid-major (Northern Illinois) and Division I-FCS (Central Connecticut State) levels. The Saints also have a former NFL defensive coordinator on staff, in secondary coach Kris Richard. The former Seahawks DC should receive a look as well. He met with both the Ravens and Steelers about their DC vacancies last month. The Saints have met with multiple outside candidates, Michael Wilhoite and Aubrey Pleasant, for the position as well. Wilhoite began his coaching career in New Orleans, working as a lower-level assistant from 2019-20.

Here is the latest from the NFC’s coaching ranks:

  • New Vikings HC Kevin O’Connell is interested in more Rams assistants. Minnesota requested permission to interview Los Angeles assistant DBs coach Jonathan Cooley, per Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic (on Twitter). The Vikes are eyeing Cooley for their secondary coach/passing-game coordinator position. After gigs at multiple MAC schools from 2018-19, Cooley joined the Rams in 2020. The Rams are already lost their top secondary coach, Ejiro Evero, to the Broncos. They are also expected to lose tight ends coach Wes Phillips and offensive assistant Chris O’Hara to the Vikings, who are interviewing Rams running backs coach Thomas Brown for their OC job.
  • The Vikings are poaching another assistant from the Broncos, being poised to hire Justin Rascati as their assistant offensive line coach, Mike Klis of 9News tweets. Rascati served as an offensive quality control coach in Denver last season. O’Connell is already bringing ex-Broncos staffers Ed Donatell and Curtis Modkins to Minnesota.
  • Bryan Cox is back on an NFL staff. The Giants are hiring the former NFL linebacker, per Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com. Cox will be the Giants’ assistant D-line coach under Don Martindale. This will be Cox’s first NFL gig since the Falcons fired him following Super Bowl LI five years ago.
  • The 49ers are promoting offensive quality control coach Brian Fleury to their tight ends coach spot, Matt Barrows of The Athletic notes. Fleury, who will replace new Dolphins tight ends coach Jon Embree in this role, has been with the 49ers for three seasons.

Giants Plan To Add Rob Ryan To Staff

Don Martindale plans to bring some familiar faces to his new team. The relocating defensive coordinator is eyeing Rob Ryan and Bryan Cox for his first Giants staff, Aaron Wilson of ProFootballNetwork.com tweets.

Ryan has settled onto the position coach tier, doing so after receiving several cracks as a coordinator. The former DC for the Raiders, Browns, Cowboys, Saints and Bills has coached inside linebackers in Washington and Baltimore since working on Rex Ryan‘s Buffalo staff in 2016. The Ravens, however, opted not to retain him after parting ways with Martindale.

Interestingly, Martindale was Oakland’s linebackers coach under Ryan during each of the latter’s five seasons running the Raiders’ defense (2004-08). They reunited on Baltimore’s staff last season.

A former linebacker, Cox has not been a full-time NFL staffer since the 2016 season, when he was the Falcons’ defensive line coach under Richard Smith. The Falcons canned select staffers after their historic Super Bowl collapse, and Cox was among those let go. Cox was primarily a D-line coach from 2006-16. He worked with Ryan in Cleveland from 2009-10.

The Giants are also interviewing Adam Henry for their wide receivers coach role, Mike Garafolo of NFL.com tweets. Henry previously served as New York’s wideouts coach from 2016-17 under Ben McAdoo. He has since coached receivers in Cleveland and Dallas.

Bills Sign Nazair Jones, Eli Ankou

The Bills will take a flier on a former Seahawks third-round pick. They signed defensive lineman Nazair Jones on Tuesday, adding him to the roster after defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. suffered an Achilles injury during minicamp.

Cox is now on IR, and Jones will attempt to make his way back to the field. The North Carolina alum has not played in a regular-season game since the 2018 season.

The Seahawks drafted both Jones and fellow interior D-lineman Malik McDowell during the 2017 draft’s second day, adding the former late in Round 3. Jones started two games as a rookie, registering two sacks and three tackles for loss. Injuries intervened soon after. A foot injury ended Jones’ rookie year, and a knee malady sent him to IR ahead of the 2019 season. The Seahawks waived Jones just after the 2020 draft.

Buffalo signed ex-Jones Seahawks teammate Quinton Jefferson last year but moved on after one season. The Bills are still fairly deep at defensive tackle. Star Lotulelei is back after his 2020 opt-out; he joins former first-round picks Ed Oliver and Vernon Butler and ex-third-rounder Harrison Phillips on Buffalo’s defensive interior.

This mix will also include Eli Ankou, who joins Smith as a defensive tackle headed to Buffalo. A former UDFA, Ankou has played 27 games (two starts) since 2017. The UCLA alum suited up for seven games with the Cowboys last season.

NFL Reserve/Futures Contracts: 1/26/21

Here are Tuesday’s reserve/futures deals:

Buffalo Bills

Green Bay Packers

Las Vegas Raiders

Miami Dolphins

New York Giants

Bills Release Andre Roberts, Trim Roster To 53

Here are the roster decisions the Bills made to move to the mandated 53-man regular-season limit.

Waived:

Released:

Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform:

The Bills signed Roberts to a two-year deal in 2019, doing so after he earned All-Pro recognition for his kick-return work on the 2018 Jets. Roberts has 10 years’ experience and two Pro Bowls on his resume. The second of those two Pro Bowl nods came last season with the Bills. Buffalo enters the season with its best chance to win the AFC East in maybe 20 years, so cutting an accomplished player is certainly surprising.

Foster made a splash as a rookie in 2018, but the Bills have overhauled their receiver group since. John Brown and Cole Beasley led the way last year, and the team traded for Stefon Diggs and drafted two wideouts — fourth-rounder Gabriel Davis and sixth-rounder Isaiah Hodgins — this year. Foster will nonetheless be an interest name on waivers.

Buffalo traded for Andre Smith earlier this week. The third-year linebacker could well be brought back on the team’s 16-player practice squad. Teams can begin assembling their P-squads Sunday.

Sunday NFL Transactions: NFC South

Listed below are the Sunday roster moves for the four NFC South teams. Following the 53-man roster cutdown deadline yesterday, many teams will make slight tweaks to their rosters, claiming players off waivers or signing guys who clear waivers. Those transactions for the Buccaneers, FalconsPanthers and Saints are noted below.

Additionally, teams can begin constructing their 10-man practice squads today. You can check out our glossary entry on practice squads to brush up on those changes, as well as all the other guidelines that govern the 10-man units, whose players practice with the team but aren’t eligible to suit up on Sundays.

Here are Sunday’s NFC South transactions, which will continue to be updated throughout the day.

Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

RFA/ERFA Tender Decisions: 3/6/19

Here are today’s restricted free agent and exclusive-rights free agent tender decisions:

RFAs

Tendered at original-round level:

ERFAs

Tendered:

Non-tendered:

Sunday NFL Transactions: NFC South

Listed below are the Sunday roster moves for the four NFC South teams. Following the 53-man roster cutdown deadline yesterday, many teams will make slight tweaks to their rosters, claiming players off waivers or signing guys who clear waivers. Those transactions for the Falcons, Panthers, Saints, and Buccaneers are noted below.

Additionally, as of 12:00pm CT today, teams can begin constructing their 10-man practice squads. You can check out our glossary entry on practice squads to brush up on those changes, as well as all the other guidelines that govern the 10-man units, whose players practice with the team but aren’t eligible to suit up on Sundays.

Here are Sunday’s NFC South transactions, which will continue to be updated throughout the day:

Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers

New Orleans Saints

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Extra Points: Bills, Falcons, Saints, 2018 Draft Class

Some assorted notes from around the NFL…

  • Bills general manager Brandon Beane continues to grow his front office. According to Jay Skurski of The Buffalo News, the team has hired former Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey as their Senior College Scout. Prior to his gig with Miami, Beane spent almost 20 years with the Buccaneers. The Bills also re-hired three former scouts and Curtis Rukavina, the former Director of Player Personnel for the Toronto Argonauts.
  • The 2018 running back class “could be special,” says Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller. The writer specifically points to Penn State’s Saquon Barkley, with one executive saying the upcoming junior could be the best running back prospect of the past decade. Miller also points to LSU’s Derrius Guice and Ohio State’s Mike Weber among those who are primed for big 2017 seasons.
  • Saints undrafted rookie Justin Thomas served as the starting quarterback for Georgia Tech throughout his college career, but he’s been forced to make a position change in the NFL. Thomas originally auditioned for the Saints as a defensive back, but the team switched him to wideout at the beginning of the multi-day tryout, and the rookie ultimately earned a spot on the team. Predictably, Thomas would be willing to play any position if it meant he’d stick around for the regular season. “Of course, I would like to play quarterback, but at the same time, I’m a realist,” Thomas told Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com. “I didn’t want to lessen my opportunities, so I was open to anything.”
  • The Falcons let go of defensive line coach Bryan Cox back in February, and the former Pro Bowler believes his firing was attributed to his “incident” during the 2016 Combine when he reportedly shoved a Cardinals scout. “You go from your unit playing really well in the Super Bowl and sacking the quarterback five times and having [nine] quarterback hits . . . and [three] days later you get fired,” Cox told Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer (via Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com). “I wasn’t given an answer to why I was fired. I was left to go back and kind of play stuff over. And the only thing I can come up with is the Combine incident that kind of led to it.”

Falcons Fire DC Richard Smith

The Falcons have fired defensive coordinator Richard Smith and defensive line coach Bryan Cox, according to Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL Radio (Twitter link). Smith could eventually be re-assigned within the organization, sources tell Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com.Richard Smith (Vertical)

[RELATED: Falcons Hire OC Steve Sarkasian]

Atlanta may look to fill the DC vacancy with an internal hire, per McClure, who identifies secondary coach Marquand Manuel as a “strong” contender for the job. Manuel, 37, doesn’t boast any play-calling experience, but did interview for the Jaguars’ coordinator gig last offseason. Other internal candidates to become the Falcons’ next coordinator could include pass game coordinator Jerome Henderson, linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich, and receivers coach Raheem Morris, adds McClure. Henderson is on the 49ers’ radar, as well, as new head coach Kyle Shanahan reportedly wants to hire co-defensive coordinators.

Smith, meanwhile, has coached NFL defenses since the late-1980s, and has coordinated units in Miami and Houston in addition to Atlanta. Since joining the Falcons in 2015, Smith never led a defense that finished among the top half of the league in DVOA, with the team’s best finish coming in 2015 (22nd). This past season, Atlanta ranked just 27th in defensive DVOA, although the club improved as the season progressed. As McClure hinted at, Smith may stay with the Falcons, but is currently exploring his options, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

Cox is also on the outs after Atlanta’s defensive line ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of sacks, but finished just 24th and 25th in adjusted sack rate and adjusted line yards, respectively. Although he deserves credit for helping second-year end Vic Beasley flourish (and lead the NFL with 15.5 sacks), Cox’s unit was subpar overall. Cox, who’s coached in the NFL since 2006 following a long playing a career, is now a coaching free agent.

Given that Shanahan has left Atlanta, the Falcons will begin the 2017 campaign with new coordinators on each side of the ball. Steve Sarkasian has already been hired to replace Shanahan on offense, but the club also lost a respected offensive mind in quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, who was hired as the Rams’ new OC.