Jeff Ireland

South Notes: Saints, Darnold, Colts

Links between Patrick Mahomes and other teams have emerged in the past. The Cardinals were preparing to draft the eventual Chiefs megastar five years ago. Sean Payton also confirmed the rumored story of his old team’s plans with the then-Texas Tech prospect. During his latest FOX appearance (h/t NFL.com’s Peter Schrager), the former Saints coach said he was prepared to draft Mahomes at No. 11 in 2017. While Payton confirmed he discussed the selection with Drew Brees and informed the future Hall of Famer a Mahomes pick would not impact his starter status, the Saints also viewed Marshon Lattimore as a top-four player in the 2017 class.

Payton said in 2020 the team did not have a clear choice between Lattimore and Mahomes, though then-Kansas City GM John Dorsey made New Orleans’ decision easier with the trade-up for the quarterback. Payton said this week Mahomes was “the best quarterback I’d ever seen on college tape.” The Saints had worked out Mahomes in Lubbock that year. Hindsight would suggest the Saints needed to be ready to climb into the top 10 for such a talent, but Mahomes was not viewed as a surefire top-10 pick that year. GM Mickey Loomis also said Lattimore falling impacted the team’s decision not to trade up for Mahomes. Both Mahomes and Lattimore are now signed to long-term contracts, though the former’s prime should be expected to last longer.

Here is the latest from the NFC South:

  • The NFL’s longest-tenured general manager, excluding those with owner-GM or coach-GM roles, Loomis has seen fellow Saints cornerstones Payton and Brees depart in the past two offseasons. But the 21st-year Saints front office boss is not planning to join them in leaving anytime soon, via Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com. When the acclaimed salary cap guru does walk away, Jeff Ireland looms as a logical successor. The former Dolphins GM is well-regarded by Loomis and others in the organization, Duncan adds. Ireland, 52, was the Dolphins’ GM from 2008-13. Currently the Saints’ assistant GM, Ireland has been with the team since 2015. The Bears interviewed Ireland for their GM post this offseason, while the Lions and Panthers met with him in 2021. It will be interesting to see if Ireland sticks around to potentially succeed Loomis or land a GM gig elsewhere before the New Orleans GM exits.
  • After a strained 2021 between Michael Thomas and the Saints, first-year HC Dennis Allen made connecting with the wide receiver one of his first acts upon being promoted. Allen flew to Los Angeles to have dinner with Thomas early this offseason, Mike Triplett of ESPN.com notes. Despite Thomas’ injury-plagued 2020s and the Saints’ frustration with their top wideout regarding his 2021 surgery timetable — a process that led to the All-Pro missing a full season — the team vowed not to trade him early this offseason. Thomas, 29, has returned healthy and caught two touchdown passes in the Saints’ Week 1 comeback win over the Falcons.
  • Potentially the Colts‘ left tackle of the future, Bernhard Raimann backed up Matt Pryor in Week 1. But the Colts used the third-round rookie in a rotation with Pryor. After Raimann played 12 of the five-period game’s 90 left tackle snaps, Frank Reich said (via the Indianapolis Star’s Joel Erickson) he plans to continue rotating his backup in going forward. Left tackle represented the only position at which the Colts deployed a rotation, beginning a path to Raimann seizing this job full-time. The Colts re-signed Pryor on a one-year, $5.55MM deal this offseason, and Erickson offers the 2021 Colts swingman — who has never been a full-time left tackle — could be an option at right guard, should Raimann take over the blindside.
  • Sam Darnold is making progress toward a return. The Panthers backup has shed his walking boot, per The Athletic’s Joe Person (on Twitter). On IR due to a high ankle sprain, Darnold will miss at least the season’s first four weeks.

2022 NFL General Manager Search Tracker

Along with the head coaches being fired, a few NFL teams are looking for new general managers. Listed below are the GM candidates that have been linked to each of the teams with vacancies, along with their current status.

If and when other teams decide to make GM changes, they’ll be added to this list. Here is the current breakdown:

Updated 5-24-22 (9:03pm CT)

Chicago Bears

Las Vegas Raiders

Minnesota Vikings

New York Giants

Pittsburgh Steelers

Bears Request To Interview Chargers’ Wooden

Do not be surprised if you start getting calls from Chicago because the Bears are searching far and wide to fill their vacant general manager position and they are interviewing EVERYBODY! The newest candidate to add to the list is Chargers’ director of player personnel, JoJo Wooden, according to a tweet from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Wooden has been with the Chargers since 2013 overseeing the pro and college scouting department for the Chargers. He got his start with the Jets in 1997 and spent 10 seasons working his way up from pro personnel assistant to the assistant director, player personnel, a position he held for six more years.

What makes Wooden an interesting candidate for the Bears’ job is the connections he has to the search committee. Bears Senior Writer Larry Mayer reported a couple days ago that Bill Polian, who has spent time as a general manager for the Bills, Panthers, and, most notably, the Colts, will be a resource to the Bears as they go through the process of hiring a new head coach and general manager. Wooden is known as a key lieutenant for the Chargers’ current general manager Tom Telesco, and Telesco worked under Polian during Polian’s entire tenure in Indianapolis.

To date, the Bears have already interviewed the Browns’ Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Glenn Cook and their own assistant director of player personnel, Champ Kelly. They’ve also requested interviews with the Colts’ Morocco Brown and Ed Dodds, the 49ers’ Ran Carthon, the Saints’ Jeff Ireland, the Steelers’ Omar Khan, the Giants’ Joe Schoen, and the Patriots’ Eliot Wolf. Texans’ former general manager Rick Smith has also been identified as a candidate.

Bears Request Four More GM Interviews

We can add three more names to the list of Bears GM candidates. Per ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler (on Twitter), Chicago requested permission to interview Colts vice president of player personnel Ed Dodds. ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweets that the Bears also requested permission to interview Saints assistant general manager Jeff Ireland, while Albert Breer of TheMMQB tweets that Chicago put in a request on 49ers director of player personnel Ran Carthon. Schefter also notes (on Twitter) that Chicago requested an interview with Bills assistant general manager Joe Schoen.

[RELATED: Bears Request Interviews With Three Execs For GM Gig]

Dodds was a popular name in the GM circuit last offseason, when he was connected to gigs with the Lions and Panthers. Dodds has worked with the Colts since 2017, and he was promoted to his current position in 2018. Dodds previously spent time in the Seahawks front office, where he played a major role in constructing a Super Bowl-winning roster.

Best known for his time as Dolphins GM (2008-13), Ireland resurfaced with the Saints and helped the Mickey LoomisSean Payton regime reposition the team as the NFC South’s best after some mid-2010s defensive struggles. During Ireland’s stay, the Saints have draft perennial Pro Bowlers Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore and several other impact starters. He was also connected to the Lions and Panthers gigs last offseason.

Carthon is already set to interview for the open Giants GM job. The former Florida Gators fullback has spent a decade as a pro personnel director, doing so with the Rams from 2012-16 and in his five years with the 49ers. Carthon was promoted to his current role during this past offseason.

Schoen has been with the Bills organization since 2017, and he’s played a major role in the organization’s recent rise in the AFC. Prior to his stint in Buffalo, Schoen spent almost a decade in Miami (when he was endorsed by Bill Parcells), evolving from a national scout into director of player personnel. The executive also had a stint with the Panthers, working his way up from an intern in the ticket office.

We learned of the first three potential names to replace Ryan Pace in Chicago, with Browns VP of football operations Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Browns VP of player personnel Glenn Cook, and Colts director of college scouting Morocco Brown connected to the job.

2021 NFL General Manager Search Tracker

This year’s NFL GM carousel figures to be more active than usual. The Falcons, Lions, Panthers, Texans, and Jaguars are all on the hunt for a new front office leader. And that’s only the official list. The real tally shows six clubs looking for a GM, since the Washington Football Team is expected to install a GM to work alongside head coach Ron Rivera. By mid-January, we could easily see a couple more jobs opening up — that’d put ~25% of the NFL on the market.

We’ll keep track of the GM candidates for each club here, along with their current status. If and when other teams decide to make general manager changes, they’ll be added to this list. Here’s the current breakdown:

Updated 1-19-21 (7:02pm CT)

Atlanta Falcons

Carolina Panthers 

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

Washington Football Team

Latest On Lions GM Search

Rams college scouting director Brad Holmes is in Detroit for a second interview, which will occur Tuesday. He is the first such GM candidate to meet with the Lions a second time during this cycle. He may not be the only exec the Lions meet with twice.

The Lions want to bring Vikings assistant GM George Paton and Saints execs Jeff Ireland and Terry Fontenot back for second meetings, according to Albert Breer of SI.com (on Twitter). Detroit also added Indianapolis assistant GM Ed Dodds to its interview list, meeting with him Tuesday. The Lions were evidently impressed, with Breer noting they would like to speak with Dodds again.

Dodds recently bowed out of the wide-ranging Panthers GM search, leaving only the Lions pursuing him. The former Seahawks exec may be connected to another ex-Seattle staffer. The Lions have been connected to 49ers DC Robert Saleh about their HC vacancy for weeks, and the Detroit News’ Justin Rogers notes some believe Dodds would want to bring Saleh with him to Detroit (Twitter link). Saleh and Dodds were both with the Seahawks from 2011-13, though Saleh was only a defensive quality control coach at that point.

A Michigan native, Saleh interviewed for the Lions job last week but remains in the mix for other gigs — a list that now includes Philadelphia. Saleh has also been connected to an Adam Peters HC-GM pairing, but Peters is not a Lions GM candidate.

Paton and Fontenot remain in the mix for the Broncos GM post, having booked second interviews with Denver. While the longtime Vikings exec has been quite particular in past GM searches, he has remained a sought-after candidate. Fontenot, who interviewed for the Jets’ GM job in 2019, and Ireland — the former Dolphins GM — each went through virtual interviews for the Detroit job last week. Holmes is a Falcons finalist as well.

Lions Interview Jeff Ireland For GM Job

Jeff Ireland has now booked two interviews during this extensive GM hiring period. Following his Panthers meeting, the Saints executive met with the Lions on Friday.

Best known for his time as Dolphins GM (2008-13), Ireland resurfaced with the Saints and helped the Mickey LoomisSean Payton regime reposition the team as the NFC South’s best after some mid-2010s defensive struggles. The Saints have won four straight division titles, doing so despite losing Drew Brees for extensive stretches in each of the past two years, and have some recent draft classes to thank for their consistency.

Ireland, 50, works as the Saints’ assistant GM and college scouting director. During his stay, the Saints drafted perennial Pro Bowlers Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara and Marshon Lattimore and several other impact starters. This has undoubtedly helped Ireland resurface on the GM interview circuit after his Dolphins teams slunk out of the playoff picture following a 2008 AFC East title. These Carolina and Detroit meetings are Ireland’s first known GM interviews since his Dolphins tenure ended.

The Lions have conducted a thorough GM search thus far. They have targeted a few former GMs — from Thomas Dimitroff (Falcons), Scott Pioli (Chiefs) and Rick Smith (Texans) — and expressed interest in poaching longtime Seahawks GM John Schneider. Here is how Detroit’s candidate list looks as of Friday afternoon:

Panthers Interview Jeff Ireland, Joe Schoen, Monti Ossenfort

The Panthers have been busy with GM interviews Tuesday. Their meeting with Patriots player personnel director Nick Caserio occurred today, but the franchise also met with three other candidates.

Carolina interviewed Saints assistant GM Jeff Ireland, Bills assistant GM Joe Schoen and Titans player personnel director Monti Ossenfort, the team announced. These meetings followed Monday interviews with ex-Giants GM Jerry Reese and Browns exec Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. The Panthers requested an interview with Colts exec Ed Dodds and are also interested in 49ers staffer Adam Peters.

While Ireland is best known for his GM run with the Dolphins (2008-13), he has been with the Saints since 2015. Also serving as New Orleans’ college scouting director, he has teamed with Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis to help restore the Saints to a perennial playoff entrant with successful drafts in the late 2010s. The Panthers are the only team to interview Ireland in this year’s extensive GM hiring period.

Ossenfort moved from New England to Nashville this year, leaving his longtime Patriots post for a central role with the Titans. He interviewed for the Browns GM opening earlier this year. Schoen has been a right-hand man for Brandon Beane and has played a key role in elevating the Bills from a team with a 17-year playoff drought to one that just secured the AFC’s No. 2 seed.

The Panthers are also interested in Vikings assistant GM George Paton and Chiefs director of player personnel Mike Borgonzi, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes. Paton has long been a target of GM-seeking teams. His most recent connection came when he backed out of the Browns’ 2020 GM search, one in which he was viewed as the favorite. The Chiefs have seen multiple Andy Reid-era staffers — Chris Ballard, Brett Veach — become GMs. Borgonzi predates Reid’s Kansas City arrival, having joined the Chiefs in 2009. He has risen from a scouting post to director of football operations over the past 10-plus years.

GM Interviews: Lions, Falcons, Panthers

It’s been a very busy Monday after Week 17 so far, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. There are a number of GM openings around the league, and interview requests for execs are flying in. Let’s get you caught up on all the latest:

  • Saints VP/assistant GM for pro personnel Terry Fontenot is scheduled to interview for the Lions GM job on Tuesday and the Falcons GM job on Wednesday, Albert Breer of The MMQB tweets. The Falcons have also requested a GM interview with Rams college scouting director Brad Holmes (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero). Along with Rick Smith, these were the top names expected to be in the mix in Atlanta. Fontenot isn’t the only Saints exec in the mix, as New Orleans assistant GM Jeff Ireland has been requested by the Panthers and Lions, Pelissero tweets.
  • Finally (for now), the Lions are also going to interview Vikings assistant GM George Paton, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweets. Rapsheet says both Paton and Fontenot are “very strong candidates” for the Detroit job. Paton has drawn interest before, and has been in Minnesota’s front office since the 2007 season.
  • The Panthers are casting a wide net, and they’re also requesting to interview Chiefs assistant director of player personnel Ryan Poles for the vacancy created by Marty Hurney’s firing, Rapoport tweets. One more, as Carolina has officially requested to interview 49ers VP of Player Personnel Adam Peters, Rapoport tweets. We had heard they might have some interest in Peters, and Rapoport notes that he spent time with head coach Matt Rhule at UCLA and is “one to watch” here.
  • The Falcons have requested Colts college scouting director Morocco Brown, Pelissero tweets. Indy’s GM Chris Ballard is very highly regarded, so it’s not surprising that teams are digging into some of his deputies. Brown previously had personnel roles with Cleveland (2014-15) and Washington (2008-13).

Saints Notes: Fairley, Kelemete, Kuhn, Line

After missing the entire 2017 season as a result of a heart ailment, free agent defensive tackle Nick Fairley wants to play during the upcoming campaign, tweets Nick Underhill of the Advocate. The Saints, who inked Fairley to a four-year deal last offseason but released him last month, are not expected to be involved in a potential Fairley pursuit, per Underhill. Fairley was an excellent interior defender at full strength, but it’s unclear if any NFL club would be willing to bet on his health. Indeed, Fairley hasn’t been medically cleared to play, as Underhill tweets, so a return to the league seems unlikely.

Here’s more from New Orleans:

  • Free agent offensive lineman Senio Kelemete is experiencing a “healthy market,” according to Josh Katzenstein of the Advocate, and while the Saints will likely be interested in retaining him, any reunion will be based on cost. New Orleans isn’t likely to offer Kelemete a chance to start, as the club is set with Terron Armstead, Andrus Peat, Max Unger, Larry Warford, and Ryan Ramczyk from left to right. Kelemete’s versatility and ability to play nearly every position on the line is his key asset, but he’d surely prefer a starting job to a reserve role.
  • The Saints and free agent fullback John Kuhn have mutual interest in a return, sources tell Herbie Teope of NOLA.com. Kuhn, who was sidelined for the majority of the 2017 campaign after suffering a biceps injury, is currently considering whether he’ll continue his playing career or enter the coaching ranks, per Teope. Fellow Saints fullback Zach Line, who appeared in 12 games for New Orleans following Kuhn’s injury, is drawing interest around the league, reports Katzenstein, but the Saints have interest in retaining him, as well.
  • Saints assistant general manager Jeff Ireland orchestrated arguably the NFL’s best draft class last spring, and he’d like to become a primary decision-maker again in the future, as Underhill writes. “Absolutely, why wouldn’t it be?” Ireland said when asked if getting a second GM job is his goal. “I’m not in a hurry. I told myself when I got to New Orleans I was going to help this team build. I’d really have to think twice about leaving the New Orleans Saints before we won a Super Bowl.” Ireland previously served as the Dolphins’ general manager from 2008-13, and the club posted a 46-50 record under his lead.
  • Although he hasn’t expressed a willingness to accept a full-time position, the Saints would like to have special teams consultant Mike Westhoff return next season, according to Katzenstein. Westhoff is currently recovering a surgical operation which could limit his availability, but New Orleans is willing to allow the 70-year-old a varied schedule. He wouldn’t be accepting the lead special teams coach role, as the Saints intend to retain Bradford Banta (primary ST coach) and Kevin O’Dea (assistant).