Scott Pioli

Texans Notes: Gaine, Caserio, Clowney, Mathieu

Former Texans general manager Brian Gaine‘s firing shouldn’t be attributed to his inability to sign Jadeveon Clowney, writes Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer. We heard last week that the former executive had made “zero” progress on an extension for the former number-one pick, and a lack of development may have played a role in his firing.

However, Breer said there wasn’t any organizational disagreement over the handling of Clowney. The team was interested in signing the linebacker on their terms, and they were content opting for the franchise tag. For what it’s worth, we learned earlier today that Clowney is not expected to attend the team’s mandatory minicamp. The three-time Pro Bowler has yet to sign the franchise tender as he continues to push for a multiyear pact.

So what was the main reason for Gaine’s firing? Breer points to a lack of “fit” and “alignment,” as the former general manager didn’t share the same vision as head coach Bill O’Brien. Furthermore, the reporter believes the team’s current pursuit of Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio also played a role in the decision.

Let’s check out some more notes out of Houston, all via Breer…

  • Speaking of Caserio, his relationship with O’Brien and executive vice president of team development Jack Easterby could play a role in him leaving New England. There’s been a perception that Caserio wouldn’t leave the Patriots, but the reporter points out that the executive had been closing to leaving before (he considered taking the Dolphins’ gig in 2014). Breer wonders if the Texans could also look to Patriots college scouting director Monti Ossenfort or former Patriots executive (and current Falcons assistant GM) Scott Pioli for the role.
  • There also wasn’t an organizational disagreement over the handling of Tyrann Mathieu. The team recognized that the Pro Bowl safety had lofty monetary demands, and they never intended to go as far as the three-year, $42MM deal he received from the Chiefs this offseason. Meanwhile, the coaching staff has been happy with Gaine’s replacement for Mathieu, Tashaun Gipson.
  • Following Gaine’s signing of a five-year extension in 2018, the majority of his moves have actually been lauded by the front office and coaching staff. Breer points to the one-year deal for Mathieu, and he also notes the general manager’s ability to add productive rookies (receiver Keke Coutee and safety Justin Reid) in the 2018 draft despite not having a first- or second-rounder. While his inability to add a competent offensive line in front of Deshaun Watson certainly played a role in his firing, Breer opines that the forced trade of Duane Brown wasn’t the GM’s decision.
  • The Texans coaching staff has been happy with second-round offensive tackle Max Scharping and third-round tight end Kahale Warring. They’re also a “big fan” of first-rounder Tytus Howard. However, many pundits believe the Howard selection was a bit of a reach, and Breer wonders if O’Brien and Easterby’s Patriots’ philosophy clashed with Gaine’s eventual decision (as the two would have preferred trading back).

Latest On Texans’ GM Search, Nick Caserio The Favorite?

The Texans’ GM search is starting to heat up. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle brings us a lengthy list of possible candidates that includes Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio, Patriots director of college scouting Monti Ossenfort, former Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie, and former Chiefs GM Scott Pioli.

That’s in addition to former Browns GM Ray Farmer, who will apparently be the first to interview with the team. But just because Farmer is up first doesn’t mean he’s the top option. Caserio is “believed to be the leading candidate” for the job, according to Mark Berman of FOX 26 (Twitter link).

As soon as the Texans fired Brian Gaine, we heard rumblings that they would again pursue Caserio in their search. When the Texans were looking to fill their GM vacancy last offseason they requested to interview both Caserio and Ossenfort, but were denied by the Patriots. It’s unclear what would’ve changed, but people seem to think they’d have a good shot at them this time around.

Further, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com examines what the situation will look like after a GM is hired. As he points out, this will go one of two ways. Either the Texans will hire another Bill O’Brien guy like they did last time, or they’ll hire an outside candidate with no connection to O’Brien, which means they could be looking for a new head coach after the season as well.

We heard on Friday that Texans exec Jack Easterby, who was recently appointed to a prominent position, will be playing a large role in the search. It was reported that Easterby is close friends with Caserio, so this latest development makes a lot of sense. The other names we’ve already seen mentioned, but this is the first we’ve heard of McKenzie as a potential candidate. After losing a power struggle with Jon Gruden in Oakland, McKenzie recently signed on with the Dolphins’ front office.

It’ll be interesting to see whether they let O’Brien run the hiring process, and that will go a long way toward showing us whether O’Brien is on the hot seat entering 2019. Caserio is apparently close with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, and his presence is what has convinced McDaniels to stay in New England in the past, so many have speculated they’ll be paired together as an eventual coach/GM combo if Caserio ever leaves the Pats.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Fallout From Texans’ Brian Gaine Firing

While Brian Gaine had little chance to showcase his roster-building vision through the draft, the since-fired Texans GM was in charge of significant extension talks. A lack of development on the Jadeveon Clowney front may have factored into his firing. The 17-month GM made “zero” progress on a Clowney extension, Charles Robinson of Yahoo.com tweets. Gaine also called the Chiefs about a Clowney deal before the draft, per Robinson, and continued calling teams after Clark was traded to Kansas City. Clowney has been extension-eligible since the start of 2017. After word of prospective 2018 talks emerged, not much transpired on that front last year. The 2014 No. 1 overall pick is attached to a $17.1MM franchise tag. Houston’s next GM will have to deal with this situation, along with likely another J.J. Watt contract. The five-time All-Pro’s $16.7MM-AAV deal now looks remarkably team-friendly, given where the market has ventured.

Here is the latest out of Houston:

  • While this firing stunned the NFL-following world, it surprised many key Texans staffers as well. Some personnel people did not know this was on tap until moments before the organization released its statement, Robinson tweets. The Texans wrapped up their OTAs this week but still have their minicamp next week. That will almost certainly be conducted without a general manager. Of the GMs hired in advance of the 2018 season, Gaine was the only one whose team made the playoffs. Both Brian Gutekunst and Dave Gettleman oversaw sub-.500 seasons.
  • Despite joining the Texans this offseason, Jack Easterby looks set to have influence on who the team’s next GM will be. The recently appointed executive vice president of team development (a position the Texans recently created) has become a key figure in Houston’s front office, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. Hired after a six-year run as the Patriots’ character coach, Easterby has become a close confidant of Bill O’Brien‘s, per Breer. This seems pivotal considering O’Brien will now be coaching alongside a third GM. Easterby is also close friends with Patriots VP of player personnel Nick Caserio, per the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain. Caserio is back on the Texans’ radar.
  • Another potential name to watch: Scott Pioli. The longtime Falcons exec and former Chiefs GM recently stepped down from his Atlanta post, but an NFL personnel man floated him as a prospective candidate to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports (Twitter link). Pioli, of course, ascended as a Patriots front office bastion. His and O’Brien’s New England stays overlapped by two years, from 2007-08.

NFC Notes: Pioli, Falcons, Lions, Decker, Giants, Jones, Manning

Falcons front office exec Scott Pioli raised some eyebrows when he suddenly resigned the other day. Pioli had been an assistant GM and top lieutenant to GM Thomas Dimitroff, so it was a pretty significant departure. Pioli was the Chiefs’ general manager for four seasons before being canned, and he joined the Falcons in 2014. Rumors swirled about the circumstances surrounding his departure and whether he was forced out, but Pioli is insisting nothing happened. In an interview with Jeff Schultz of The Athletic, Pioli said “I’m fine. My family is fine. This was my choice and it’s just time. Time for what, I don’t know, yet,” he said somewhat cryptically.

Dimitroff backed up Pioli’s account, and said his resignation wasn’t to take another specific job. Still, it’s interesting timing considering recent reports that Arthur Blank, the Falcons’ owner, is getting restless with the direction of the franchise. Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn are under a lot of pressure to win in 2019, and if they don’t deliver they could be joining Pioli on the open market after the season. With his experience running a team, it’s possible Pioli could be a candidate for future GM openings.

Here’s more from around the NFC:

  • Many members of the 2016 draft class are getting ready to sign extensions. One first round pick from that class who isn’t preparing for that is Lions left tackle Taylor Decker. Decker has battled injuries and inconsistency since Detroit took him with the 16th overall pick a few years ago, and knows he needs to show out the next couple of seasons. “In my mind, I’m going to play two more years before that’s going to happen,” Decker said, referring to a new contract, per Nate Atkins of MLive.com. The Lions recently exercised the fifth-year option on Decker, meaning he’s under team control through the 2020 season. Atkins writes that the team’s current plan is “waiting and seeing” with Decker, and that they aren’t completely sold on him. Decker has been solid but not spectacular during his time on the field, and his development will be very interesting to monitor in 2019.
  •  The conventional wisdom is that the Giants are 100 percent committed to Eli Manning as their starter in 2019, and quite possibly beyond. But in a recent piece, Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com argues that Daniel Jones could be given the chance to supplant Manning before the season even begins. That would be in direct contrast with Giants brass’ stated intentions to sit and develop the sixth overall pick, but crazier things have happened. Florio writes that the “team’s hope that this happens could be hiding in plain sight,” referring to the potential for Jones to shine during training camp and the preseason and force them into playing him right away. It’s still very unlikely to happen, but it’s possible Manning’s place atop the depth chart isn’t quite as secure as everyone is assuming.

Falcons Asst GM Scott Pioli Steps Down

Falcons assistant GM Scott Pioli has stepped down, according to a team announcement. Atlanta’s press release offers little in the way of reasons for Pioli’s decision, except to note that he “wants to pursue other opportunities.” 

Pioli joined the Falcons in 2014 after serving as the Chiefs’ GM for four seasons. Before that, Pioli spent time with the Patriots, Jets, Ravens, and Browns.

We understand and respect the decision Scott, Dallas and their family have come to today and wish them nothing but the best,” Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said. “Over the last five years Scott has not only provided tremendous value to me, but to the entire the Falcons organization. He is a dear friend and will be missed within our organization. We are continuing to assess the structure within our organization and move forward with our next steps.”

Meanwhile, Pioli says that he never intended to stay with the Falcons for the long haul.

When I accepted this position more than five years ago, we all believed this would likely be a two or three-year working relationship,” Pioli said. “I came in to work closely with Thomas on personnel structure, processes and decisions. I loved the concept, was confident I could provide value and have enjoyed the challenge. Now, after more than five years with the Falcons, I am ready for a change. I want to thank all of my co-workers at Flowery Branch as it has truly been an honor to be a part of this organization and I am thankful to have been a part of this football team and the Falcons family.”

It’s not immediately clear whether Pioli has his next opportunity lined up, but there is a newly available GM vacancy in New York.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

East Notes: Cowboys, Giants, Hackenberg, Jets

Jerry Jones offered a measured response to Roger Goodell‘s new extension when asked about it on Friday morning.

“No, I don’t really [have any comment],” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan (transcript via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News). “We’re having a very important [owners] meeting here in Dallas next week beginning Wednesday. That’s very meaningful. I’m looking forward to that. That’ll be very meaningful as we go forward. One of the things that I think that has been mentioned is any role that I might have had in the extension of Roger. As you know, I’ve been on both ends of it as far as any criticism. It’s been my experience in 30 years in the NFL that to make change and to make positive change — every time we all strive to make the NFL better, I include every owner with that — it’s hard. It’s very, very hard. If you really want to make some changes, you usually end up getting a lot of criticism along the way. It’s happened every time with me when we’ve had meaningful change. … We’ll see how it goes forward, but there’s nothing that has surprised me here.”

While Jones seethes behind closed doors, let’s take a look at the latest from the East divisions:

  • Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com spoke with people around the league to size up some potential candidates for the Giants‘ GM vacancy. The names he’s hearing include Eliot Wolf (Packers), Nick Caserio (Patriots), Scott Pioli (Falcons), Trent Kirchner (Seahawks), Dave Gettleman (ex-Panthers GM), Louis Riddick (currently with ESPN), and internal candidates Kevin Abrams and Marc Ross.
  • Can Christian Hackenberg still be the Jets‘ quarterback of the future? The former second round pick has yet to see the field, but Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News won’t rule out the possibility that he could be in the mix next season. For his part, Hackenberg admits that he is anxious to take an NFL snap. “In order to grow and learn, you need to get hit in your mouth,” Hackenberg said. “You need to fail. Then you grow from that. There’s really no intimidation. I got to experience things. I felt like I experienced a lot of really good things this preseason and some things I need to learn from. That’s all part of the process. If you don’t experience both ends of the spectrum, you’re not getting everything out of the adventure.”

NFC East Notes: Giants, Redskins, Jones

Now that the Giants front office and coaching staff is set to go through a number of changes after the firing of Jerry Reese and Ben McAdoo, there’s a ton of speculation of who could be the person put in charge to bring the franchise back to perennial success.

While many people think the hire will come outside the organization, Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network thinks interim GM Kevin Abrams should not be overlooked as the Giants begin their search.

Garafolo notes that Abrams is a “cap guy by trade”, but has worked on his scouting ability in recent years and has “attended multiple NFL seminars” to prepare to lead a football operations department. A number of names are likely to be floated for the job given that the team will likely have a high pick and has a track record of winning, but Abrams seems like he might get a realistic shot at turning his interim tag into a full-time position.

Here’s more from around the NFC East:

  • Apart from Abrams, Mike Sando of ESPN.com speculated a few candidates from outside the organization who could be contenders for the Giants general manager and head coaching gigs. Sando names front office guys like Nick Caserio from the Patriots, former Panthers GM Dave Gettleman and former Colts President Bill Polian. He also highlights many well known up-and-comers such as Eric DeCosta (Ravens), George Paton (Vikings), Eliot Wolf (Packers) and Terry McDonough (Cardinals) among many others. Sando added that former GM’s Scott Pioli (Falcons) and John Dorsey (free agent) could be intriguing hires as well. In terms of potential head coaching candidates, Sando names guys who were on the teams original list back before they hired McAdoo prior the 2016-17 season. This would include current coordinators like Teryl Austin (Lions) and Mike Smith (Buccaneers). An under-the-radar name to watch is Texans defensive coordinator, Mike Vrabel, who is best known for his time leading the Patriots defense to Super Bowl titles.
  • While the Redskins are out of the NFC playoff race after losing to the Cowboys last Thursday, that doesn’t mean that team will start resting their players, states John Keim of ESPN.com. He passes along that Head coach Jay Gruden said that he wouldn’t rest some of their injured starters just because the games don’t have postseason implications for the team. “They’re all trying to get back in the lineup,” Gruden said. “They’re going to play hard because they want to win and want to do well. That’s the reason they’re all here. We try to target guys that love football, are passionate about the game and are going to play hard no matter what. For the most part, we’ve got that here. So whether you are on one year left or five years left, doesn’t really matter.” Starters like left tackle Trent Williams, right tackle Morgan Moses and tight end Jordan Reed have all dealt with nagging injuries this season, but it appears that the Redskins won’t just solely be resting key players hoping that could lead to a better draft pick.
  • Eagles cornerback Sidney Jones has not played in a game this season as he’s continued to rehab the achilles that he had torn back in March. However, the rookie has yet to participate in practice, reports Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer (Twitter link). Jones has been eligible to start practicing since the beginning of Week 7, but has just a 21 day time period to be activated to the roster once he does begin to take part in practice. It’s important to note that Berman explains in a follow-up tweet, Jones could just use the last three weeks of the regular season to get extra reps and get a head start on his offseason training. The Eagles currently have corners Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Ronald Darby and Rasul Douglas patrolling the defensive backfield.

Coaching/GM Notes, Pt. 1: Pagano, Payton, Kelly

We heard earlier today that Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak is likely to step down while the Bears are expected to retain head coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace. Let’s take a look at some other coaching and GM rumors from around the league, which are so abundant that we will split this post into two parts. Part 2 can be found here.

  • Colts owner Jim Irsay has attempted to downplay the notion that head coach Chuck Pagano and/or GM Ryan Grigson are on the hot seat, but ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports that Irsay has been “very unhappy” with his team’s performance, and coaches within the organization believe that change is coming. It appears as if Pagano’s job is certainly in jeopardy, although it remains unclear whether Grigson could be fired as well. Irsay could not be reached for comment.
  • There is “mutual interest” between the Rams and Saints head coach Sean Payton, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, who reports that the ball is in New Orleans GM Mickey Loomis‘ court. If Loomis decides he’s willing to part with Payton for moderate compensation, Payton would be the clear front-runner to take over in Los Angeles. And if the Saints do move on from Payton, Jaguars interim head coach Doug Marrone would be a strong candidate to replace him in New Orleans, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports. Marrone could also take over the Jacksonville job on a permanent basis.
  • The Jaguars will not, however, consider Chip Kelly, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes.
  • La Canfora tweets out a list of names who could be in contention for the 49ers‘ GM job, a list that includes Louis Riddick, Scott Pioli, and George Paton. Meanwhile, San Francisco is said to be high on Patriots OC Josh McDaniels and Dolphins DC Vance Joseph as head coaching candidates.
  • Peter Schrager of FoxSports.com tweets that Panthers DC Sean McDermott is lined up for multiple head coaching interviews.

Breer On GM Search, Harbaugh, Draft

When it comes to being a GM, is it more about who you know than what you know? In his latest column, Albert Breer of The MMQB spoke with one league official who suggested that the NFL’s career development advisory panel has something of a fraternity-vibe.

It’s all full of nepotism. It’s a joke. And it starts with Charley Casserly,” the personnel man said.

Casserly rejected the idea that he, Ron Wolf, Bill Polian, Ernie Accorsi, John Madden, Tony Dungy and Carl Peterson are aiming to line up their friends with jobs, but he did acknowledge that connections help.

It’s so different than it is with coaches,” Casserly said. “Coaches are so clearly defined. You know who calls the plays, you see them on TV, coordinators have press conferences. It’s just not like that in scouting. Are they pro? College? None of them are making big decisions. What you need is networking. It’s not politicking.”

Casserly was directly involved with the Jets’ coach and GM search process in 2015. Gang Green wound up hiring Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan – two former co-workers of Casserly’s.

Here’s more from Breer:

  • Breer identified the following executives as people who could immediately jump into a GM job somewhere: Chiefs VP of player personnel Chris BallardPatriots VP of player personnel Nick Caserio, Ravens assistant GM Eric DeCostaSeahawks co-director of player personnel Scott FittererTexans director of player personnel Brian GainePackers director of player personnel Brian GutekunstSeahawks co-director of player personnel Trent KirchnerCowboys assistant director of player personnel Will McClay, Cardinals VP of player personnel Terry McDonoughVikings assistant GM George PatonFalcons assistant GM Scott PioliBengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin, Packers director of football operations Eliot Wolf.
  • The widespread feeling in NFL circles is that Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh will be back in pro football eventually, even if it’s not happening right now. For his part, Harbaugh says that he is incredibly happy as the Wolverines’ coach.
  • Is Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen the next under-the-radar quarterback prospect a la Carson Wentz? It was Craig Bohl who recruited Carson Wentz to North Dakota State and he is now Allen’s coach at Wyoming. It’s hard to say whether the 6’5″, 222-pound signal caller has the same kind of talent, but his stock is rising. “He’s a big ol’ kid with a big arm, and he’s pretty athletic too,” said one AFC exec. “We gotta learn more about him, but the tools are there.” Allen, a redshirt sophomore, has plenty of time to develop.
  • Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck recently predicted that Central Michigan quarterback Cooper Rush will be an “incredibly high draft pick” this year. Apparently, talent evaluators do not agree. “He may get drafted late because of the [lack of] quality at the position,” said one area scout assigned to CMU. “He’s an accurate thrower with deceptive athletic ability to extend plays with his feet. Not a dynamic or explosive athlete, but good enough to avoid the rush and create at times. Average arm at best, but he’s got solid touch on intermediate and deep balls. He just lacks elite velocity.”

Falcons To Retain GM Thomas Dimitroff

Despite some December speculation that his grip on the Falcons’ general manager job was growing somewhat tenuous, Thomas Dimitroff will remain in his current role going forward, owner Arthur Blank announced today. Blank issued a statement expressing confidence in Dimitroff and head coach Dan Quinn going forward.Thomas Dimitroff

“Over the last week, we have conducted an exhaustive review of every area of our team,” Blank said. “Through this process it has become very clear to me that Coach Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff have built a productive working relationship over the last 11 months. There is very good alignment between Dan and Thomas on the direction we need to go to improve our team and I believe maintaining the continuity of that relationship, with Scott Pioli continuing to assist Thomas, is the right way forward.”

While Dimitroff and Pioli appear poised to remain in their current positions, that doesn’t mean there won’t be some changes made within the front office. In his statement, the Falcons owner went on to say that the team will likely make some moves in the next few weeks that will affect football operations.

“We are going to make a number of changes to our pro personnel and college scouting departments and that process began this week,” Blank said. “It will take some time, but we will be adding talent on the pro personnel side and re-organizing both of these groups to best align with the shared vision of Coach Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff. I expect these changes will produce positive results for our team.”

After making the playoffs in four of Dimitroff’s first five seasons as GM, the Falcons have struggled in recent years, going a combined 18-30 over the last three seasons, with no postseason berths. The team has had some trouble during that stretch adding offensive playmakers to complement Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, though Devonta Freeman‘s breakout season in 2015 was a positive sign. There has also been a lack of difference-making talent on defense in Atlanta lately, but the hiring of Quinn and this year’s selection of Vic Beasley represented steps in the right direction on that side of the ball.