Ron Rivera

NFC South Notes: Panthers, Saints, Bucs

David Tepper‘s $2.275 billion Panthers purchase price was not the high bid during this process. Albert Breer of SI.com reports Ben Navarro‘s bid came in closer to Jerry Richardson‘s desired $2.6 billion price. But NFL owners had long preferred Tepper, a part-owner of the Steelers, to Navarro. Richardson wanted the team to go to a Carolinian, and Navarro is a Charleston, S.C., native. However, Tepper was able to make his bid mostly in cash, whereas Navarro had to bring in partners some in the league’s power structure found unsatisfactory. The NFL “didn’t trust his money,” Breer writes, paving the way for Tepper. A credit card company mogul, Navarro encountered scrutiny from other owners, to the point he had to hire a PR firm to navigate obstacles during this high-profile pursuit. Additionally, fellow bidder Michael Rubin assembled a group of potential buyers that turned off some owners, Breer reports.

Here’s the latest from the NFC South, which involves the highest-profile player in the NBA’s Pacific Division.

  • Rubin attempted to bring in Steph Curry, a Charlotte native, but the NBA nixed that, Breer reports. A Curry/Rubin venture would have violated an NBA bylaw that prevents players from forming business partnerships with owners from other teams. The Golden State Warriors’ two-time MVP would have been working with a part-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers in Rubin, and even though they would have been partners in another sport, that evidently wouldn’t have mattered.
  • Tepper will try to run the Panthers like the Steelers; he’s unlikely to change Carolina’s football operations at this point. In preparation for this entrance into the franchise-ownership game, Tepper consulted Steelers GM Kevin Colbert and VP of football and business administration Omar Khan about Panthers GM Marty Hurney and HC Ron Rivera. And Breer reports the Pittsburgh execs were staunch supporters of both Carolina decision-makers.
  • The Saints will convert UDFA tight end Nate Wozniak to tackle, Josh Katzenstein of NOLA.com reports. A University of Minnesota product who caught just 28 passes in four seasons, the 6-foot-10 Wozniak weighed only 268 pounds at his pro day. He’s coming in north of 280 now and is aiming to get to 300, per Katzenstein, who adds other teams pursued Wozniak in hopes of converting him to tackle.
  • A Buccaneers staffer since 2014, Brian McLaughlin will ascend to the role of a national scout. Jenna Laine of ESPN.com notes McLaughlin will be part of National Football Scouting, of which 15 NFL teams are affiliated, and piece together early prospect rankings that help set up organizational scouting reports.

New Panthers Owner Unlikely To Alter Football Ops

Minority Steelers owner David Tepper was expected to formally purchase the Panthers today, and while he’ll assume control of the franchise in the near future, Tepper isn’t planning to overhaul Carolina’s front office or coaching staff, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk.

General manager Marty Hurney and head coach Ron Rivera are each under contract through the 2020 campaign, and given that Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reported earlier today Tepper wants to bring the “Steeler Way” to Carolina, it’s no surprise he’s unwilling to make major changes upon takeover. Indeed, “continuity, stability, [and] progressive thinking on player contract extensions” are said to be Tepper’s initial goals, so keeping incumbent staff in place seems like an obvious strategy.

Rivera, of course, has enjoyed immense success as the Panthers’ head coach, but Hurney’s status as general manager seemed a bit more tenuous. Hurney, now in his second stint leading Carolina’s front office, only recently had the interim label removed from his title, and it was unclear whether new ownership would seek to retain him.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Panthers Conduct Second Interview With Lake Dawson

Marty Hurney met with NFL investigator Lisa Friel on Friday as part of a league investigation into a since-withdrawn domestic violence claim made by Hurney’s ex-wife. This has affected the Panthers’ GM interview process, with Hurney — who served as interim GM last season — previously viewed as the favorite to be named full-time GM.

However, the Panthers may now be leaning toward hiring an external candidate, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports (on Twitter).

One of the outside candidates that went through the initial interview process, Lake Dawson, was summoned back to Charlotte for a second meeting, Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer reports.

Dawson was one of three outside candidates interviewed for this post, joining 49ers exec Martin Mayhew and Texans player personnel VP Jimmy Raye III.

Currently the Bills’ assistant college scouting director, Dawson also interviewed for the Panthers’ GM position when it was previously open in 2013. Dave Gettleman won that race, but Dawson is firmly in the mix this time. Ron Rivera has been part of this search process as well, but the eighth-year HC wasn’t in the meeting when Dawson returned to North Carolina.

Hurney is currently on paid leave as the NFL conducts its investigation, and Person reports nothing is imminent on making this hire. Although Jerry Richardson intends to sell the Panthers, Person reports does not want to make a rash decision regarding Hurney, whom he once fired to clear the way for Gettleman.

Panthers, HC Ron Rivera Agree To Extension

The Panthers have been looking for some stability in their organization, and it sounds like they’ve found that with Ron Rivera. The Panthers announced that they’ve signed their head coach to an extension. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport was the first to report (via Twitter) that the organization was closing in on a two-year extension with their head coach. The new contract would keep Rivera with the team through the 2020 season. Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer reports that the deal is worth $15.5MM.

Ron Rivera (vertical)“I’m very excited about it because I really like where we are as a football team,” Rivera said. “We’ve done some really good things and we have an opportunity to do more. Things are in place and we can continue this success. We’ve had consistency of winning and we’ve gone to the playoffs four out of five years.

“This is a tremendous place with tremendous support from ownership and the people that work in the organization. And I really appreciate the support we’ve gotten from our fans in the Carolinas. That’s a big reason why I want to continue my association with this organization.”

We heard last month that the Panthers were prioritizing signing Rivera to an extension. The 55-year-old joined the organization back in 2011, leading his team to only 13 wins during his first two seasons at the helm. However, since then, the Panthers have gone 51-28, and they made a Super Bowl appearance along the way. If Rivera hadn’t been signed to an extension, Rapoport notes that he would have been one of the most popular names for the various head coaching vacancies, including the Bears. Rivera was Chicago’s defensive coordinator from 2004 through 2006.

Of course, while the Panthers may appreciate the stability on their coaching staff, the front office and ownership are a different story. This extension would be the first major move for COO Tina Becker, who replaced owner Jerry Richardson. The owner is now planning on selling the team amid allegations of workplace misconduct. The team is also rolling with an interim general manager in Marty Hurney, whose contract runs through June. As ProFootballTalk.com tweets, new ownership could realistically clear house, meaning Rivera’s extension doesn’t necessarily mean he’s safe.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Coaching Notes: Panthers, Cardinals, Bengals, Bucs

There’s plenty of uncertainty when it comes to the Panthers organization, as owner Jerry Richardson is shopping the team and they’re currently rolling with an interim general manager in Marty Hurney. However, the team is looking to establish some stability by locking up head coach Ron Rivera.

NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that the organization is prioritizing locking up their head coach long term. While talks have just started, the reporter expects negotiations to quickly heat up. Meanwhile, many in the organization are hoping that Hurney is promoted to full-time general manager, although the team will presumably explore their options before committing to the executive.

Rivera last signed a three-year deal worth $19.5MM. That deal would take the head coach through the 2018 season, meaning there isn’t a whole lot of urgency for the organization to lock up their head coach this offseason.

Let’s take a look at some more coaching notes from around the NFL…

  • Cardinals coach Bruce Arians hasn’t informed the organization about his future, but Rapoport reports that the team is “more confident than ever” that he’ll return. Still, since there is some uncertainty, the organization is exploring other potential options, and Rapoport notes that one of those candidates is Texans coach Bill O’Brien. If available, the Cardinals have made it clear that O’Brien would be atop their list of targets. Arians is under contract through the 2018 season, but there’s been chatter that the 65-year-old could retire to better focus on his health.
  • Unsurprisingly, there’s some concern that Browns head coach Hue Jackson may have lost his locker room, reports Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com. This concern recently came to a head when running back Isaiah Crowell “liked” a series of tweets that were critical of Jackson. Meanwhile, Florio notes that there are whispers that some of the team’s defensive players are upset with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and his son, Blake, who is the Browns’ linebackers coach.
  • The Bengals are eyeing Jackson or Jay Gruden for their impending head coaching vacancy, reports Florio. It’d be a homecoming for the pair, as both Jackson and Gruden served as offensive coordinators for Marvin Lewis. The writer notes that Lewis could ultimately be promoted to a front office role.
  • Even if Dirk Koetter sticks around as the Buccaneers head coach, Roy Cummings of Florida Football Insiders is convinced the organization will require some other coaching changes. Specifically, defensive coordinator Mike Smith could be on the hot seat, and the team could look towards former Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley as a replacement.

Fallout From And Reactions To Panthers Firing Dave Gettleman

It has never been more treacherous to be an NFL GM, Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Over the last five seasons, we have seen 15 GMs fired in December/January, one fired in February, and two canned during the season. Now, we can add four spring/summer firings to the list. Scot McCloughan (March 9), Doug Whaley (April 30), John Dorsey (June 22), and Dave Gettleman (July 17) were all fired at unusual times.

Where did things go wrong for the Panthers and Gettleman? And what’s next in Carolina? Here’s the latest:

  • Panthers owner Jerry Richardson remains high on coach Ron Rivera, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com tweets. There will be major changes for the Panthers this year, but that apparently won’t extend to the sideline.
  • There were rumblings that all was not well with Gettleman and Richardson after star cornerback Josh Norman was allowed to walk, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. Prior to the 2016 season, the Panthers rescinded the franchise tag from Norman, leading the way for him to sign a gargantuan deal with the Redskins. The Panthers lost one of the game’s best cornerbacks for nothing and their secondary suffered as a direct result. Apparently, the move did not sit well with Richardson and he never completely got over that bold miscalculation from Gettleman.
  • Gettleman took over what was probably the second worst cap situation in the NFL, Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap (on Twitter) opines. Although the 2016 season was difficult, Fitzgerald isn’t sure that the Panthers could have asked for much more during Gettleman’s time in charge. In the 2015 season, the Panthers went 15-1 and reached the Super Bowl.
  • Earlier this summer, DeAngelo Williams said that he would not return to the Panthers if he was given a contract offer. Now that Gettleman is gone, he is singing a different tune. Norman and former Panthers great Steve Smith also seem pretty happy about Monday’s news.

Cole’s Latest: Panthers, Rivera, Watson, King

If the Panthers don’t earn a postseason berth in 2017, head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman could be on the hot seat, according to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (video link). Carolina, of course, finished the 2016 campaign with a 6-10 record after losing only regular season game and securing a Super Bowl appearance the year prior. Both Rivera and Gettleman are now facing extra pressure, says Cole, which would be one reason the Panthers handed defensive tackle Kawann Short an extension earlier this week, as the club may have wanted to ensure Short was present for offseason activities.

Here’s more from around the league, all courtesy of Cole:

  • Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson displayed a “CEO presence” in predraft meetings with NFL team, and his intangibles are highly impressive to personnel executives, reports Cole (video link), who adds Watson is considered the best leader among the top QB prospects. Listed at 6’2″, 220 pounds, Watson’s size does have some scouts concerned, as they aren’t sure he’ll be able to withstand the pounding of an NFL campaign. For what it’s worth, I sent Watson to Kansas City in PFR’s first 2017 mock draft.
  • Some NFL decision-makers believe Washington cornerback Kevin King is the most overrated player in the 2017 draft, per Cole (video link). King is an impressive physical specimen, especially for a defensive back, as he stands at 6’3″ and 200 pounds. But evaluators don’t believe King’s performance on the field matches his stature. While King has been creeping into the first round of mock drafts — specifically as a possible Seahawks target — one scout said he grades King as no better than a seventh-round choice.
  • As Peter King of TheMMQB.com reported earlier this week, the 49ers and Jets are among the clubs most eager to trade down at the top of the draft, but any such deals could come with a relatively cheap price attached, according to Cole (video link). Outside of Texas A&M edge defender Myles Garrett, the draft doesn’t contain multiple “overwhelming” players, per Cole, while the supply of clubs looking to trade down doesn’t equal the demand of teams hoping to move up.
  • One prospect that could lead to draft-day discussions is Stanford pass rusher Solomon Thomas, whom most NFL clubs consider the “clear” No. 2 player in this year’s class, reports Cole (video link). If the cost of trading up does remain low, several teams might consider moving up the board in order to land Thomas, as such a maneuver would be viewed as an “extraordinary bargain.”

Draft Rumors: McCaffrey, Cook, Melifonwu

Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey visited the Panthers last week, a source tells Jourdan Rodrigue of the Charlotte Observer. NFL executives reportedly believe McCaffrey will be a top-10 selection, and Carolina picks at No. 8. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera recently said no spot is “too high” to draft a running back, and veteran Jonathan Stewart‘s recent one-year extension won’t stop Carolina from bringing in another runner. PFR’s first mock draft has McCaffrey falling a bit farther, however, as we sent him to Philadelphia at No. 14.

Here’s more on the NFL draft:

  • The Bengals are hosting Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, according to Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com. Cincinnati is fully expected to select a running back in this year’s draft, and will likely do so on Day 1 or 2. Incumbent back Giovani Bernard is coming off a torn ACL, while Jeremy Hill hasn’t been effective recently and is entering the final year of his rookie deal. Cook, for his part, topped 1,600 yards and posted 19 touchdowns in each of the last two years with the Seminoles.
  • Missouri defensive end Charles Harris is heading to New York for a visit with the Jets, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Harris, who put up 16 sacks over the past two seasons with the Tigers, probably won’t be in consideration for Gang Green at sixth overall, but he could be an option for the Jets if they trade back (or if he slips to the second round). So far, only the Titans are also known to have met with Harris.
  • The Panthers have visited with Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson, reports Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com (Twitter link). Carolina, of course, signed Matt Kalil to a hefty free agent contract to play left tackle, but the club may need help on the right side, as Michael Oher is still in the concussion protocol three months after the conclusion of the season. Robinson also has the capability to play guard, so the Panthers could draft him as insurance on internal options Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell, each of whom will hit free agency in 2018.
  • Washington safety Budda Baker recently met with the Steelers, as the club announced. Pittsburgh has spent a bevy of recent picks on defensive backs, as Senquez Golson, Artie Burns, and Sean Davis have all joined the team over the past two years. While the Steelers already boast a solid free safety in Mike Mitchell, he’s entering his age-30 campaign and will reach unrestricted free agency next spring.
  • The Dolphins have spent a “significant amount of time” with UConn safety Obi Melifonwu, Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes. Melifonwu has drawn a good amount of interest from around the league during the predraft process, and one team — the Titans — may even view him as a cornerback. Miami recently extended Reshad Jones, but the club could use another safety now that Isa Abdul-Quddus has been cut following a back injury. T.J. McDonald is also in tow, but he’s suspended for the first half of the season.

Coaching Notes: Panthers, Bears, 49ers, Jets

After going 15-1 and losing the Super Bowl last season, the Panthers have taken a huge step back in 2016. The team enters the final week of the season with a 6-9 record, and both the offense and the defense rank towards the bottom half of the league in several team stats.

Despite the struggles, coach Ron Rivera indicated that he isn’t anticipating any changes to his coaching staff…as long as it’s his decision.

“Remember, it’s the same group that was 15-1, same group that led the league in scoring,” Rivera told Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review. “And in the last five years, we’ve had a top-10 defense. So as I look it and break things down, yeah, there’s some things that we have to work on and change. You guys heard me talk about evolving. We have to.”

As Darin Gantt of ProFootballTalk.com points out, Rivera hasn’t stuck to similar promises in the past. For instance, the team relieved special teams coach Richard Rodgers of his duties following the 2014 campaign. Gantt believes that offensive coordinator Mike Shula and quarterbacks coach Ken Dorsey could find themselves on the hot seat.

Let’s take a look at some other coaching notes from around the NFL…

  • Things haven’t gone as planned during John Fox‘s second season with the Bears. The team is looking to avoid their worst 16-game record in franchise history, and blame will naturally lie on the head coach. Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune writes that chairman George McCaskey will likely wait until the end of the season to make any decisions on his coaching staff’s fate. Campbell notes that the organization waited until the 2014 offseason to fire general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman.
  • Eric Branch of SFGate.com wonders if head coach Chip Kelly‘s unwillingness to adjust his fast-paced gameplan could ultimately lead to his demise with the 49ers. As the writer notes, the coach wasn’t necessarily put in a position to succeed with a lack of talent on the roster. However, Campbell believes the coach’s devotion to his gameplan could come up during offseason discussions with CEO Jed York and a new general manager (assuming Trent Baalke is fired). For what it’s worth, Kelly hasn’t indicated that he’s willing to change his ways. “I think we always look at everything on a weekly basis trying to see how we can improve,” Kelly said following his team’s overtime loss to the Jets in early December. “You look at the game yesterday: It’s about making one more play than the other team. It’s not like we’re getting taken to the woodshed and don’t have an opportunity to compete and play.”
  • Jets head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan are expected to receive a “mulligan” from owner Woody Johnson for the team’s subpar performance this season, writes ESPN.com’s Rich Cimini. The writer acknowledges that it’s been a tough year for the organization, but he also notes that it’d be a knee-jerk reaction to fire the tandem after only two seasons.

Coaching Rumors: Payton, Rams, Gruden

Despite rumors to the contrary, one source tells ESPN.com’s Mike Triplett there is no indication the Saints are more willing to part ways with Sean Payton now than they were in the past. That same source also refuted the notion that morale is low in New Orleans because of speculation over Payton’s future. Regardless, you can expect the Payton buzz to continue for a while. There’s now talk that Payton has “sincere interest” in the Rams’ opening.

Here’s a roundup of the latest coaching rumors:

  • Bills offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn and Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter are two to watch in the Rams‘ coaching search, Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News tweets.
  • There are reasons why Jon Gruden does and doesn’t make sense for the Rams, Mike Florio of PFT writes. Gruden has star power, offensive know-how, and relationships with both COO Kevin Demoff and Washington exec Bruce Allen, who could be a GM candidate for the team. He could also help the team attract Raiders fans in the area. Conversely, one could argue that Gruden was overrated as a coach since he won a Super Bowl with a defense built by Tony Dungy and run the highly-respected Monte Kiffin. Gruden also doesn’t have a rep as a player-friendly coach.
  • Panthers coach Ron Rivera has been mentioned as a possibility for the Rams‘ job, but his agent tells Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer there hasn’t been any contact between Rivera and Los Angeles. “There hasn’t been any contact,” agent Frank Bauer said. “Ron’s super happy where he’s at.” Of course, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. The Rams could still wait until after the season to reach out to Rivera and, even if they have already, his agent would never publicly confirm an act of tampering. If there is mutual interest between the Rams and Rivera this spring, L.A. would still have to negotiate a trade with the Panthers.
  • Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh won’t be returning to the NFL in 2017, but he could eventually be back, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (link via PFT). If and when he goes back to the NFL, Rapoport says he could be a match for the Bears. Meanwhile, some league insiders have speculated to PFT that Harbaugh could eventually coach the Colts, reuniting him with Andrew Luck.