Robert Saleh

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.

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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.

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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.

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AFC East Notes: Saleh, Darnold, Patriots, Bills

Robert Saleh signed his contract with the Jets today, making him the 20th head coach in franchise history. While speaking to the media, the former 49ers defensive coordinator indicated that he’d be looking for specific types of players as he helps general manager Joe Douglas fill out the roster.

“There are no shortcuts to success, and I am committed to working with Joe to build this team the right way: with talented players that play fast and smart, and a staff that supports and helps develop them through it all,” Saleh said (via the team website).

Douglas, who led the coaching search alongside included team president Hymie Elhai, noted that Saleh believes in many of the same principals that the executive brought with him from Philadelphia when he joined the Jets in 2019.

“We spoke to some tremendous coaches, but Rob is the right partner and leader for us,” Douglas said. “His vision for this team aligns with what we have been working to establish here the last two years.”

The 41-year-old Saleh was an early favorite for the job based on the strength of his SF defense. In 2020, the Niners finished fifth in total yards, seventh in rushing yards, and fourth in passing yards allowed. In 2019, Saleh’s D surrendered just 169.2 passing yards per contest — the lowest average since Rex Ryan‘s 2009 Jets D.

Let’s check out some more notes from around the AFC East…

  • Saleh and new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur have spent time evaluating Sam Darnold‘s tape, and the coaches believe the Jets quarterback has “untapped potential,” per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. The former third-overall pick had a rough season in 2020, leading some to wonder whether the new staff would prefer to take a quarterback with the second-overall pick.
  • The eight Patriots players who opted out of the 2020 season were asked to return for year-end physicals last week, writes ESPN’s Mike Reiss. Wideout Marqise Lee and running back Brandon Bolden have both said they plan to play in 2021, and Reiss opines that safety Patrick Chung, tight end Matt LaCosse, and fullback Danny Vitale will also return. However, the writer is much less certain that offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and linebacker Dont’a Hightower will be back in New England.
  • While Dave Ziegler was always an underdog in the Broncos GM search, he parlayed that experience into a “multiyear contract and pay bump as Nick Caserio‘s successor” in New England, writes Reiss. The Patriots assistant director of player personnel eventually withdrew his name from the search in Denver, and Reiss writes that this is a “reflection of the decisiveness that has earned him a measure of respect in the Patriots’ offices over the past eight year.”
  • Bills running back Zack Moss underwent minor surgery on his ankle this morning, tweets ESPN’s Adam Schefter. The 23-year-old is expected to make a full recovery from the “tight rope procedure,” and he should be ready to go for offseason workouts. The third-rounder finished his rookie campaign having compiled 576 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns.

2021 NFL Head Coaching Search Tracker

Exiting the regular season, six teams are searching for new head coaches. That number is up from last season but not quite as high as 2019, though there may well be more vacancies that emerge during the playoffs.

Listed below are the head coaching 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 head coaching changes, they’ll be added to this list. Here is the current breakdown:

Updated 1-27-21 (7:05pm CT)

Atlanta Falcons

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

Los Angeles Chargers

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Jets Officially Hire Robert Saleh

The Jets have hired Robert Saleh as their new head coach, per a club announcement. It’s a five-year deal for Gang Green and the 49ers defensive coordinator , as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets

Saleh is now the Jets’ 20th head coach in franchise history. The 41-year-old was an early favorite for the job, based on the strength of his SF defense. In 2020, the Niners finished fifth in total yards, seventh in rushing yards, and fourth in passing yards allowed. In 2019, Saleh’s D surrendered just 169.2 passing yards per contest — the lowest average since Rex Ryan‘s 2009 Jets D.

The Jets have lots of holes to fill, but also lots of room to remake the team with their new coaching staff. They’ll have ample cap space to work with in March, plus two first-round picks (Nos. 2 and 23) in April.

There were seven vacancies in this cycle, and six of those teams requested interviews with Saleh. The Jets didn’t want to let him get away and, ultimately, they got their man.The 41-year-old edged out a number of qualified candidates, including Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. Smith — similarly popular in this cycle – had just completed a second interview. Here’s the full rundown, via PFR’s tracker:

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Eagles To Interview Robert Saleh

The Eagles are a bit behind the curve after their late firing of Doug Pederson, so they don’t have any time to waste as they move forward in their unexpected coaching search. We’ve already heard they’re interested in luring Lincoln Riley from the college ranks, they’ve requested interviews with Todd Bowles and Arthur Smith, and now we’ve got another candidate on their radar.

Philadelphia has requested an interview with 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. After going through a second Jets interview Wednesday, Saleh is on his way to Philly and will begin interviewing with the team tonight, Ian Rapoport and Peter Schrager of the NFL Network note (Twitter links).

Saleh has been a hot name, getting linked to pretty much every open job. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie indicated at his press conference Monday that he usually prefers a quarterback guru as head coach, but he clearly isn’t married to that idea.

To that end, we also have some additional details on what a potential Saleh coaching staff would look like, via this tweet from Peter Schrager of NFL Network. Schrager writes that the belief around the league is that Saleh would bring a 49ers offensive assistant with him to be his OC wherever he goes, and that they would seek to implement a “Shanahan”-style offense.

That would mean a heavy run and play-action scheme. Schrager specifically highlights Mike LaFleur and Mike McDaniel as names to watch on that front. McDaniel is the 49ers’ run game coordinator who has coached under Kyle Shanahan for most of the past decade, while LaFleur is the passing game coordinator who has been with Shanahan since 2014 with the Browns when he was an offensive intern. He’s also the younger brother of Packers head coach Matt LaFleur.

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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.

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Eagles Request Todd Bowles, Arthur Smith Interviews

The Eagles have requested interviews with Todd Bowles and Arthur Smith for their head coaching vacancy (Twitter links via ESPN.com’s Sal Paolantonio and Dan Graziano). They’ll also chat with Robert Saleh, though his dance card is filling up fast.

[RELATED: Eagles Interested In Lincoln Riley]

After much deliberation, the Eagles fired one-time Philadelphia hero Doug Pederson. Now, they’re hitting the ground running in their search, starting with some of this cycle’s hottest names. They’ll also look at some of their current coaches, including assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley. Earlier this week, owner Jeffrey Lurie pegged him as a likely candidate.

Every team without a head coach has asked to chat with Smith. At this point, it would be a shock if the Titans’ offensive coordinator didn’t land one of those jobs. Bowles is also drawing interest, even though his Jets tenure ended with a 24-40 record.

University of Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley might also be in the mix, but it’s not immediately clear if he’s willing to interview.

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Jets Meet Robert Saleh For Second Interview

Robert Saleh has advanced to the next round. The Jets are flying 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh in for a second interview, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport and Mike Garafolo (Twitter link). 

Saleh — who is also in the mix for the Falcons, Lions, Jaguars, and Chargers — appears to be one of the hottest candidates in this cycle. He’s got ties to several of those teams. Before going to SF, he spent 2014-2016 as Jacksonville’s linebackers coach. He’s also been heavily connected to the Lions job, which makes sense since he’s a Michigan native who spent time with the Spartans.

The Jets were a mess on both sides of the ball and they might be inclined to go for a defensive specialist. The 41-year-old Saleh led a healthier 49ers defense to the NFL’s second-best DVOA in 2019 and managed to keep this year’s injury-ravaged unit towards the top.

Saleh, meanwhile, has no shortage of options, and the Jets might not be the belle of the ball. The Chargers might be especially appealing for Saleh, allowing him to stay in the same state and manage one of the league’s most talented units.

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