Robert Saleh

AFC Rumors: Jaguars, Williams, Van Roten, Leonard, Browns, Griffin III

After the Jaguars fired former head coach Urban Meyer, it became public that Jacksonville had no intentions of paying Meyer the remaining money on his contract, as he was being fired for cause. There was speculation at the time that the parties may follow existing precedents and negotiate a settlement in order to avoid a legal situation.

According to Jarrett Bell of USA Today, an anonymous source with knowledge of the situation informed the columnist that, to date, the two sides have been unable to strike a settlement agreement.

Here are a few other rumors from around the AFC, starting with a rumor out of South Beach:

  • The Dolphins should have plenty of options for their offensive line configuration, but it most likely hinges on what they do with interior offensive lineman Connor Williams. According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Miami isn’t quite sure what to do with Williams, working him at center and left guard over the past three weeks. The good news, is that it gives them plenty of options. With Terron Armstead solidified at left tackle and Robert Hunt solidly at right guard, Williams could fit at either position. If you put Williams at left guard, the team would likely have Michael Deiter start at center and leave Liam Eichenberg and Austin Jackson to compete for the starting right tackle job. If you start Williams at center, Eichenberg can slide in to the left guard job and Jackson can man the right tackle position.
  • The Jets recently released guard Greg Van Roten. According to Ralph Vacchiano of SNY, head coach Robert Saleh claimed that they released Van Roten because they believe he has the potential to start for other teams in the league. His release is meant to allow him to find those teams that would provide him a starting opportunity. Saleh was quoted saying they’d “love to have him back,” if he fails to find such opportunities.
  • Colts linebacker Darius Leonard had ankle surgery in June last year before the season. The surgery helped him to get healthy for the season, where he played every game but one and was named a first-team All-Pro for the third time in his career. While the ankle is still ailing him, Joel A. Erickson of the Indy Star reported that Leonard says the ankle is better now than it was at this point last year. This is an encouraging sign for Leonard and a scary message for the other teams in the AFC South. Leonard has been named to an All-Pro team every year of his career while being nagged by his ankle ailment. A healthy Leonard is a dangerous weapon for opposing teams to have to game-plan against.
  • With the return of free agent wide receiver Jarvis Landry seeming less and less likely, Mary Kay Cabot of cleveland.com believes the Browns will be able to push a bit harder now for free agent pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney to return. Cabot points out that drafting UAB pass rusher Alex Wright makes the need to sign Clowney a little less urgent, but also mentions that fellow pass rusher Myles Garrett wants Clowney back, which could help his case. Cabot claims that, if the two parties can’t agree to a new deal, Cleveland will consider former Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes instead.
  • We’ve all seen Rich Eisen of NFL Network run the 40-yard dash for charity. Well, this year, former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III, currently an analyst for ESPN, participated and reportedly was clocked at 4.48 seconds. Mike Florio of NBC Sports reports that on Eisen’s show, Griffin made the claim that some teams took notice of his impressive run and reached out to him. This doesn’t necessarily mean that any teams have offered to bring him back to the NFL, but Griffin has publicly stated his desire to return to football in the past, even claiming that his contract with ESPN would allow him to sign with an NFL team if the opportunity presents itself. Griffin last spent time in the league as Lamar Jackson‘s back up on the Ravens. He filled in multiple times leading many to wonder if he still had the ability to lead an NFL offense based on his brief appearances.

Dolphins Hire Mike McDaniel As Head Coach

The Dolphins have announced that they’ve agreed to terms to make 49ers’ offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel their next head coach (Twitter).

McDaniel recently had his second interview with Miami on Friday. Fox Sports Writer Peter Schrager reported that the interview lasted for 10 hours.
McDaniel was one of two candidates to receive a second interview with the Dolphins as Cowboys’ offensive coordinator Kellen Moore interviewed yesterday. With Moore not getting the job, it looks like Dallas will keep both coordinators as Moore has not been mentioned as a contender for the Saints’ or Texans’ jobs and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has informed teams that he is remaining in Dallas.

McDaniel is a longtime Kyle Shanahan-staffer, following Shanahan from Atlanta to San Francisco. Following Mike LaFleur‘s departure to join Robert Saleh on the Jets, McDaniel was promoted to offensive coordinator.

The 2021 NFL season was McDaniel’s first and only year as an offensive coordinator at any level. He first entered the NFL as an intern for the Broncos in 2004. He spent three years as an offensive assistant in Houston before taking the position of running backs coach for Sacramento’s short-lived UFL team. McDaniel re-entered the NFL ranks an an offensive assistant in Washington for two years before getting promoted to wide receivers coach. He spent one season in that position in Washington followed by a season holding the same position in Cleveland before heading to Atlanta to become an offensive assistant under Shanahan.

The 38-year-old’s rise has been meteoric since joining Shanahan. After two years in Atlanta, McDaniel became Shanahan’s run game coordinator in San Francisco for four seasons before finally getting his shot last year at offensive coordinator. McDaniel didn’t call plays for the 49ers, but he did draw up the running plays and coordinate a running game that ranked in the top-10 despite losing Raheem Mostert in Week 1 and missing Elijah Mitchell for 6 games this year.

With Brian Flores‘ lawsuit against the NFL, Dolphins, Giants, and Broncos alleging racial discrimination, much attention will likely be paid to the fact that McDaniel identifies as multiracial, making him the first minority coaching candidate to be hired in this year’s cycle. The 49ers will receive two third-round compensatory picks as a result of the hire.

With Miami securing their man, there are now only two teams remaining who are without a head coach: the Texans and Saints. Keep up with the last remaining coaching searches on our 2022 NFL Head Coaching Search Tracker.

AFC Notes: Henry, Mayfield, Jets, Steelers

Initially floated last month, the prospect of Derrick Henry coming back for the playoffs is moving closer to reality. Henry returning for the Titans‘ first postseason game is the plan, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes. Once thought to be out for the season, Henry has recovered well enough, per Rapoport, that the Titans would consider bringing him back for Week 18 — should the team need a win to reach the playoffs. Henry has been out since Week 8, when he suffered a Jones fracture in his foot. This would obviously be a tremendous development for the Titans, who have not been the same without the two-time reigning rushing champion. Henry’s 937 rushing yards still rank fifth in the NFL, despite the dominant back having missed the past six games. Henry underwent surgery Nov. 2.

Here is the latest from the AFC:

  • Although Baker Mayfield missed Monday’s game due to a positive COVID-19 test, the Browns quarterback has played through multiple injuries in the previous several weeks. The former No. 1 overall pick will, however, need offseason surgery and will be forced to wear a harness on his injured left shoulder the rest of this season, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports notes. Mayfield suffered a fractured shoulder bone in October. While some of Mayfield’s other injuries — of the knee and heel variety — have improved, the shoulder problem is unlikely to be in the rear-view mirror until after his 2022 surgery.
  • The Jets may be without their head coach in Week 16. Robert Saleh tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com tweets. Tight ends coach Ron Middleton would step in as acting head coach if Saleh remains sidelined on Sunday, when the Jets face the Jaguars.
  • Mekhi Becton has yet to resume practicing, with Saleh indicating earlier this week he had “no update” on his left tackle. Out with a dislocated kneecap he sustained in Week 1, Becton has yet to resume practicing. The Jets shutting down their left tackle would be wise here, Cimini writes. Two years remain on the 370-pound blocker’s contract, with a 2024 option included, but availability has become a concern for the 2020 first-rounder. Becton missed some time last season, and the Jets have previously levied discipline over his weight.
  • First-year Steelers offensive line coach Adrian Klemm has attracted interest from a high-profile college program. Oregon is pursuing the NFL assistant, ESPN.com’s Adam Rittenberg tweets. Promoted after two years as the Steelers’ assistant O-line coach, Klemm has only been an NFL assistant for three seasons. He worked as a college staffer previously, ending that run as a UCLA associate head coach. Oregon is assembling a new staff under recently hired HC Dan Lanning.

HC Robert Saleh: Jets Aren’t Planning “Fire Sale”

When the Jets were struggling last year, general manager Joe Douglas was quick to sell off veterans for future picks. While the 2021 version of the team sits at only 1-5, it doesn’t sound like the Jets are planning on selling again this year. While head coach Robert Saleh wasn’t around last season, he told reporters today that he isn’t anticipating a fire sale, per Connor Hughes of The Athletic (via Twitter).

“If it’s something that will help us, great,” Saleh said (via Al Iannazzone of Newsday.com). “If it’s not, great. We’ll stay pat. Forcing things is not Joe’s forte. He’s very deliberate. He communicates with us all the time. I love the way he goes about his business. I love his process. I’m with Joe.”

The Jets have the youngest roster in the NFL, so it’s not like the team has a surplus of veterans that they could sell off for future pieces. Last year, the team traded the likes of Steve McLendon, Avery Williamson, and Jordan Willis, but we’re unlikely to see a repeat in 2021.

“If it’s something that’s going to help us awesome,” Saleh said. “But I also know we’re not looking for a fire sale either.”

While Marcus Maye previously made sense as a trade candidate (considering the contentious negotiations this summer), the safety said that he hasn’t requested a trade out of New York. Following Zach Wilson‘s injury, the Jets actually made a move to add to their roster earlier this week when they acquired Joe Flacco from the Eagles.

Jets Owner Endorses GM Joe Douglas, HC Robert Saleh

The Jets hit another low this past Sunday. Not only did they get blown out by their divisional rival, but they also lost rookie quarterback Zach Wilson for the next few weeks. While no one in New York is happy with the team’s 1-5 record, owner Woody Johnson told reporters that he continues to have faith in general manager Joe Douglas and coach Robert Saleh.

“I’ve been around for, this is going on 22 years, with my little absence that I had recently, and this is a good group,” Johnson said (via ESPN’s Rich Cimini). “We will get it right. Last week, you know, [was] frustrating, but now we turn the page and we’re off to the Bengals.”

The Jets have struggled during Douglas’s two-plus seasons in New York, but he’s also put together the league’s youngest roster and has a clear vision for the future. This is Saleh’s first season at the helm, and even if the Jets finish with one of the worst records in the league, there’s practically no chance the team moves on from their head coach.

“Just talking to the leadership — Joe, Robert, and seeing how their plans are put together,” Johnson said. “How they’re deep thinkers, they want to do things like establish a culture and they’re getting the right players in the right positions.

“It’s just a very young team with a young quarterback. He’s 22 years old, he just turned 22. So he’s seeing things for the first time like a lot of the quarterbacks now, a lot of the young quarterbacks. It’s going to take him a little bit of time, but I have a lot of confidence in Zach, too.”

Jets To Stick With Current CBs?

The Jets’ cornerback group is extremely green, but that doesn’t seem to bother new head coach Robert Saleh. In a conference call with reporters, Saleh indicated that the Jets aren’t planning to add an experienced vet to the mix.

The difference between Player A and Player Z is minimal, and the only thing that keeps Player Z from becoming Player A is an opportunity and reps,” Saleh said (via Brian Costello of the New York Post). “Let’s see what happens. Does it always happen? It doesn’t, but unless you’re willing to be bold enough to coach your tail off and to invest as much as you can into these young men and give them the opportunity to be seen, give them the opportunity to get reps, and give them the opportunity to get better, you’ll never know what you might find. So, that’s just the belief and the philosophy of not only our coaching staff but the entire organization, and that’s something we’re committed to.”

Saleh also quoted his old mentor, Pete Carroll: “You can’t be afraid to play young guys.” Saleh must have taken that to heart, because Justin Hardee is the Jets’ only corner with 3+ years of NFL experience, and he’ll mostly be on special teams. As it stands, the Jets project to start Bless Austin and Bryce Hall on the outside with either Javelin Guidry or rookie Michael Carter II on slot duty.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go between now and September. But, for now, it sounds like the Jets won’t be in the mix for veteran corners like Richard Sherman.

Robert Saleh Wants Richard Sherman On Jets

Richard Sherman recently said he’d be open to returning to the Seahawks and Pete Carroll, but he could end up reuniting with a different head coach that he’s familiar with.

New Jets head coach Robert Saleh is interested in reuniting with Sherman in New York, Rich Cimini of ESPN.com is told. Whether or not GM Joe Douglas will sign off on such a move apparently “depends on a few factors.” Cimini notes it could hinge on what the Jets do at cornerback in the draft, which could mesh since we heard a couple of weeks ago Sherman wasn’t planning on signing before the draft.

Cimini also says that Sherman “seemingly would prefer a contending team in the West,” so it’s not clear the interest is entirely mutual. Saleh, of course, was Sherman’s defensive coordinator in San Francisco the past few seasons. Sherman spent a long time as one of the top corners in the league as part of Seattle’s legendary ‘Legion of Boom’ defenses, then signed with the 49ers in 2018.

The Stanford product was limited to only five games this past year and turned 33 last month, but he was still a second-team All-Pro in 2019. He’ll be an interesting gamble for a team, as he’s past his prime and coming off an injury-plagued year, but also played at a very high level not too long ago.

As Cimini cautions there are “a few bridges to cross before anything happens,” but it sounds like there is another very realistic suitor for Sherman on the table.

Jets Made A Push For TE Jonnu Smith

The Jets watched the division-rival Patriots embark on an uncharacteristic spending spree this month, and at least one of New England’s shiny new toys was a New York target. Per Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com (via ESPN colleague Rich Cimini), the Jets made a push for former Titans tight end Jonnu Smith, who wound up signing a whopping four-year, $50MM deal with the Pats.

Jets GM Joe Douglas has shown restraint when it comes to handing out big-money deals to FAs. He has established a pattern of sticking to his price for a particular player, and given that Smith’s deal was larger than most in the industry expected, it’s not terribly surprising that Douglas did not outbid Bill Belichick for the 25-year-old TE.

Douglas was able to add a couple of new receivers — Corey Davis and Keelan Cole — for whoever will be under center when Week 1 rolls around, but tight end is still a weak spot. Chris Herndon, who is entering the final year of his rookie deal, underperformed in 2020, and while the Jets did sign Tyler Kroft in free agency, he is hardly the playmaking talent that teams are looking for at the position these days. Plus, outside of Kyle Pitts, this year’s rookie class of TEs is rather thin. And unless the Jets elect to keep Sam Darnold and use the No. 2 overall pick on Pitts — or a lower selection if they trade down a couple of spots — it will be difficult to find an upgrade in the draft.

Still, there is encouraging news for Jets fans. According to Cimini, new head coach Robert Saleh has made his club a much more attractive destination for free agents, who used to choose Gang Green simply when the team overpaid.

In speaking about his choice to join the Jets, Davis said, “[i]t starts with Coach Saleh. He’s the right guy to come in here and turn things around. That’s what I believe. That’s why I came here. I believe his message and I believe what he brings to the table. He brings great energy, you can tell. It’ll be great to play for a guy like that.”

Money will still be the deciding factor in most cases, but having a charismatic HC who can connect with players will only help the Jets’ cause when it comes to attracting outside talent.

Deshaun Watson Eyeing Jets Over Dolphins?

As the Texans progress on their slow-moving head coaching search, Deshaun Watson‘s discontent with the franchise appears to remain. The quarterback is eyeing destinations for a potential trade out of Houston.

The Texans have received calls on Watson, whose unhappiness surfaced more than two weeks ago, but have not budged yet. However, multiple AFC East teams look to be in play for the quarterback whose contract contains a no-trade clause. Watson is interested in playing for the Dolphins or Jets, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald reports, but at this point would prefer a Jets deal.

Watson is believed to have told people this week he would rank the Jets over the Dolphins among destinations, due largely to the latter’s Robert Saleh hire. Watson wanted the Texans to include the former 49ers DC in their coach search, per Salguero. The Texans did not interview Saleh.

Both teams make sense as prospective Watson suitors. Each has two first-round picks this year, with both teams holding top-three selections. Both teams have former top-five QBs on the roster already, but Saleh stopped short of committing to Sam Darnold for 2021. Dolphins GM Chris Grier did name Tua Tagovailoa the team’s 2021 starter. This is not the first time the Dolphins have surfaced in prospective Watson trade talks, however. Tagovailoa would likely be a Texans target if the teams discussed Watson.

The Jets and Dolphins reside on the low end as far as skill-position talent goes, joining the Texans in that sector. Each team has a need at wide receiver. As of now, the Jets far outflank the Dolphins in cap space ahead of what could be a robust receiver market. Gang Green is projected to hold more than $60MM in cap room; Miami is projected to possess just more than $20MM.

It is believed Watson could pry three first-round picks in a trade, though a top-three pick headlining the package could change that equation. As of now, the Texans view Watson as their cornerstone player. Both Cal McNair and Nick Caserio have pledged the 25-year-old Pro Bowler will be back in Houston next season. For now, however, Watson remains a disgruntled employee. Considering the rare trade value he possesses, speculation on destinations will continue.

Jets DC Jeff Ulbrich To Call Defensive Plays

While Robert Saleh earned some rightful praise for his defensive schemes in San Francisco, he won’t be calling defensive plays as head coach of the New York Jets. Myles Simmons of ProFootballTalk.com writes that defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich will be handling defensive play-calling duties in 2021.

Saleh explained his logic during his introductory press conference (via Simmons):

“I’ve got the utmost respect and confidence in Jeff Ulbrich to be able to do that,” Saleh said. “This is an organization that has to work locked in arms and work together. And to ensure that the messaging and the way that we want things done all the way across the board is there and maintaining that connection throughout — whether it’s offense, defense, special teams, business of football — somehow, some way, everyone’s got to find their connection to the player with the mindset that we’re going to get these guys better every single day. And to be able to have that focus and ensure that the entire organization is moving in the direction that we want, I won’t be calling plays.”

Saleh could have certainly given himself those duties considering the success of the 49ers defense in recent years. After finishing with the NFL’s second-best DVOA in 2019, the coach played a big role in keeping the 49ers’ injury-ravaged defense afloat in 2020. San Francisco still finished the season fifth in total yards, seventh in rushing yards, and fourth in passing yards allowed.

While Saleh is clearly a defensive maestro, he’ll be putting his trust in Ulbrich to call defensive plays. Ulbrich started 2020 as the Falcons’ assistant head coach and linebackers coach. He was promoted to defensive coordinator following Dan Quinn‘s firing, and the Falcons showed improvement during the later stages of the season.