Week In Review

5 Key NFL Stories: 2/24/19 – 3/3/19

Jason Witten returns to Cowboys. After only one — admittedly much-maligned — season as an analyst on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, Witten ended his retirement in order to re-sign with Dallas on a one-year, $3.5MM contract. Witten, who can earn up to $5MM via incentives, drew lackluster reviews for his commentary alongside Joe Tessitore and Booger McFarland, but could end up moving into a coaching career down the line. In the near term, he’ll give the Cowboys another option at tight end, a position that didn’t offer much production for the club in 2018. In Witten’s most recent NFL campaign (2017), he posted 62 receptions for 560 yards and five touchdowns.

Eagles won’t franchise Nick Foles. The Foles saga has finally reached its conclusion, at least from the Philadelphia perspective. The Eagles exercised their option 2019 option on Foles earlier this year, but he bought back his free agency by returning $2MM to the club. After that maneuver, Philadelphia was thought to be ready to franchise Foles, but it has since decided not to do so, either because the economics didn’t work or because the team couldn’t find a trade partner. Early chatter has linked Foles to Jacksonville, where ex-Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo is now the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator, while the Giants could also be in play.

Latest on Antonio Brown. Now that the Steelers have agreed that a Brown trade is best for all parties, rival clubs have begun to express to interest. Thus far, the Raiders, Redskins, and Titans have shown the most interest in Brown, while the Jets have also placed a call to Pittsburgh. The Steelers will incur a hefty amount of dead money no mater when they deal Brown, but they could avoid having to pay him a $2.5MM roster bonus by trading him before March 17.

Edge rusher market taking shape. Plenty of outstanding pass rushers are scheduled to hit the open market later this month, but how many will actually become available? The Eagles took Brandon Graham off the board by re-signing him to a three-year, $40MM contract last week. The Seahawks are progressing on a deal with Frank Clark, but DeMarcus Lawrence and Dee Ford figured to be franchise tagged by the Cowboys and Chiefs, respectively. Kansas City, notably, could take trade offers for Ford once he signs his tender.

NFL bans David Irving, Randy Gregory. While Lawrence figures to return to Dallas in 2019, two of his fellow defensive ends are facing uncertain futures. The league handed both Irving and Gregory indefinite suspensions for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Irving was banned for the first four games of the 2018 campaign, and only suited up for two games all year. Gregory played in 14 games a season ago, but this latest ban marks his fourth NFL suspension.

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5 Key NFL Stories: 2/17/19 – 2/24/19

Robert Kraft charged with soliciting prostitution. The Patriots owner was caught as part of a sting operation at a massage parlor in Jupiter, Florida last week. While he’s only expected to be charged with a misdemeanor, Kraft could face more severe consequences from the NFL — a six-game suspension and a heavy fine could both be on the table. Meanwhile, Kraft’s legacy will almost certainly be tarnished, and his eventual Hall of Fame enshrinement is likely to be delayed.

Steelers won’t tag Le’Veon Bell. Although speculation had arisen that Pittsburgh could deploy the transition tag on Bell with the intention of trading him, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert announced that no tender — not the franchise nor transition tag — would be used on Bell. The veteran back would have had to sign the transition tender before the Steelers could have dealt him, and given that Bell sat out the entire 2018 campaign rather than ink his franchise tag, such a scenario never seemed all that likely.

Antonio Brown trade talks begin. Brown with met Steelers owner Art Rooney II last week, and the two sides have agreed that a trade would be the best outcome for all parties. While Colbert said Pittsburgh won’t simply give Brown away, rival executives reportedly believe the Steelers may only be able to get a third-round pick in exchange for the star pass-catcher. So far, three unknown clubs have contacted Pittsburgh regarding Brown’s availability.

Bengals find a DC. Nearly three weeks after Cincinnati hired Zac Taylor as its new head coach, the team finally has a defensive coordinator in place. Taylor selected Giants defensive backs coach Lou Anarumo — who coached alongside Taylor with the Dolphins from 2013-15. Before hiring Anarumo, the Bengals were linked to 11 other candidates, including Jack Del Rio, Dom Capers, and Dennis Allen.

Raiders likely to spend 2019 in Oakland. The Raiders appear set to announce an agreement with the city of Oakland that would keep the club in the Oakland Coliseum for at least one more season. The deal will reportedly come with an option for the 2020 campaign, insurance in case the Raiders’ Vegas stadium isn’t ready on time.

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5 Key NFL Stories: 2/10/19 – 2/17/19

NFL settles with Kaepernick, Reid. Both Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid had accused the NFL of colluding to keep them off the field, and the league succumbed last week, agreeing to a settlement with both players. While official financial details of the deal weren’t (and won’t be) announced, figures ranging from $40-80MM have been tossed out, at least for Kaepernick. Reid, for his part, had already re-signed with the Panthers before the settlement was disclosed. Meanwhile, Kaepernick’s lawyer believes the veteran quarterback with land with a club in the near future.

Broncos to acquire Joe Flacco. The Case Keenum era is over in Denver after the Broncos shipped a fourth-round pick to Baltimore in exchange for Flacco. The Ravens had already handed over the reins to 2018 first-rounder Lamar Jackson, so they had no use for Flacco, who still has three years left on his contract. The Broncos will assume Flacco’s remaining base salaries and install him under center, meaning Keenum will either accept a pay cut, be traded, or be released.

Kareem Hunt returns to the NFL. The Browns opted to give Hunt a chance despite the optics of such a move, signing the veteran back to a one-year, $1MM deal with no guarantees. Hunt, of course, is under investigation for three separate 2018 incidents, with the most notable being an assault of a woman that was caught on video. Now that he’s been signed, Hunt is back on the commissioner’s exempt list until further notice. He’ll be suspended for a unknown amount of time during the 2019 campaign, but will presumably be given a chance to compete with incumbent Cleveland running back Nick Chubb.

Kyler Murray commits to football. The Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman winner formally declared his intentions to become a NFL quarterback, spurning the Oakland Athletics and his No. 9 overall draft status in Major League Baseball. Murray will return most of the $4.66MM signing bonus he received from Oakland, but given that he’s expected to become a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft, he’ll be quickly able to recoup that money. He’s already hired a football agent, and will attend the scouting combine later this month.

Antonio Brown formally submits trade request. Although he’s asked to be dealt away from the Steelers, Brown will now meet with team owner Art Rooney II. Brown was initially hesitant to sit down with Rooney, but the meeting is expected to occur next week. The veteran wideout took to Twitter on Saturday, discussing Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, and other Steelers issues.

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5 Key NFL Stories: 2/3/19 – 2/10/19

Gronk to make a retirement decision soon. Fresh off winning Super Bowl LIII, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski won’t make everyone wait on his NFL fate. The four-time All-Pro says he’ll make a decision on his possible retirement within the next “week or two.” Gronkowski, of course, reportedly mulled retirement at various points during the 2018 offseason, and reportedly threatened to hang up his cleats after nearly being traded to the Lions last year. He didn’t pass the eye test this past year, appearing slow while posting his worst full-season production since his rookie campaign. Gronk is scheduled to earn a $10MM base salary in 2019, the final year of his contract.

Official hires made in Miami…The Dolphins formally announced their hiring of former Patriots defensive coordinator Brian Flores as head coach, bringing to South Beach the man who helped craft New England’s Super Bowl game plan. He’s bringing in ex-Patriots coach Chad O’Shea as offensive coordinator, while former Packers linebackers coach Patrick Graham is his DC. Longtime NFL coach Jim Caldwell will come aboard as assistant head coach/QBs coach, while former Packers DC Dom Capers is reportedly in contention to join the staff, as well.

…and in Cincinnati. Zac Taylor is officially the Bengals’ new head coach after spending the previous two seasons as an assistant for the Rams. While Taylor has made some notable hires on the offensive side of the ball, including former Raiders quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan as offensive coordinator, he’s had trouble landing a defensive play-caller. Experienced options such as Capers, Jack Del Rio, and Dennis Allen have rebuffed overtures, and the only coach with an interview lined up to this point is Rams cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant. Cincinnati is casting a wide net, however, and is seeking to arrange meetings with several collegiate DCs.

Eagles, Nick Foles begin free agent process. Nothing is official yet, but the Eagles have reportedly made the decision to exercise Foles’ $20MM option for 2019. Foles, in turn, has reportedly decided to opt out of that contract by paying Philadelphia $2MM. The Eagles, though, plan to franchise tag Foles with the intention of trading him elsewhere. Although some reports have indicated Philadelphia could be violating the collective bargaining agreement by tagging Foles without the purpose of negotiating in good faith, that rule is unlikely to be enforced.

Falcons began making cuts. Atlanta has historically been gracious to its cut candidates, releasing veteran players well in advance of the free agent period in order to give them the best opportunity to land elsewhere. This year has been no different, as Atlanta parted ways with kicker Matt Bryant, cornerback Robert Alford, and edge defender Brooks Reed during the first week of February. Alford and Reed have already landed new deals (both with the Cardinals), while Bryant should find a new home in short order.

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5 Key NFL Stories: 1/27/19 – 2/3/19

Eagles making Nick Foles preparations. Philadelphia is expected to pick up Foles’ $20MM option, but he”ll have the ability to “buy back” his free agency by giving the Eagles $2MM. Once that happens, the Eagles are expected to deploy the franchise tag and attempt to trade Foles. At that point, Philadelphia will be seeking at least a third-round pick in exchange for Foles. Additionally, they’re hoping to keep him out of the NFC East, meaning the Giants and Redskins are not likely destinations for Foles.

Redskins don’t expect Alex Smith for 2019. Smith suffered a brutal leg injury midway through last season, and Washington isn’t likely to have him back for any point of the 2019 campaign. Scheduled to take up a large chunk of the Redskins’ salary cap over the next four seasons, Smith is not a viable candidate to be released any time soon. As such, Washington will likely be in the market for a signal-caller in the upcoming months, either via the draft or in free agency.

Julius Peppers hangs up his cleats. Peppers, 39, announced his retirement last week following 17 seasons in the NFL. He’ll leave the league fourth all-time in sacks (159.5), and he could have moved into third place by playing in 2019. As recently as 2017, Peppers generated 11 sacks, and he was productive in 2018 despite his reduced sack total. He’ll go down as the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player of all time, and he’s a lock for Hall of Fame enshrinement when his time comes.

Three teams make OC promotions. A number of young offensive minds earned new jobs last week, as the Redskins, Cowboys, and Texans made internal promotions at the offensive coordinator position. Washington moved Matt Cavanaugh to an advisory role and installed former NFL quarterback Kevin O’Connell as OC, while Dallas promoted ex-QBs coach Kellen Moore after firing Scott Linehan. Houston, meanwhile, didn’t have a formal offensive coordinator in place before naming tight ends coach Tim Kelly for the role.

Antonio Brown reiterates trade demand. Although recent reports have indicated a cooling of tensions between Brown and the Steeers, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com indicated this morning that Brown has in fact doubled down on his trade demand. If Brown is cut or traded before June 1, the Steelers will incur more than $21MM in dead money on their salary cap and gain just over $1MM in new space. If he’s designated as a post-June 1 cut or traded after that date, Pittsburgh will take on roughly $7MM in dead money in 2019 and ~$14MM in 2020.

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5 Key Stories: 1/20/19 – 1/27/19

Brady, Brees Hall of Fame ceremonies will be further delayed: After a controversial Championship Sunday, the football-following world was denied a Tom BradyDrew Brees Super Bowl clash. But fans do not have to worry about either legend walking away after the 2018 season. Despite the Saints’ historically brutal playoff exit, Brees offered immediately he plans to return for a 19th season. Brady has continued to insist he will play into his mid-40s, and the Patriots passer reiterated he is not going anywhere — win or lose in Super Bowl LIII — after this season. The 2019 season would be Brady’s 20th.

Fitz makes it official for a 16th season: While Brady and Brees’ contracts run through 2019, Larry Fitzgerald had played out his deal. And the future Hall of Famer did so for a 3-13 Cardinals team. Despite the Cards’ descent, Fitzgerald re-signed to play at least one more season this week. Fitz’s latest deal will be worth at least $11MM. He had previously communicated with Kliff Kingsbury and appears to be sufficiently intrigued by the former Texas Tech head coach coming to revamp the Cardinals’ offense.

 

Ravens finalize John Harbaugh deal: As the Eric DeCosta GM era begins, the most successful head coach in Ravens history’s time in Baltimore will continue. Harbaugh’s extension became official this week, completing his move off the hot seat and in firm command as the Lamar Jackson era gets going. The 12th-year Baltimore HC’s responsibilities are also set to remain the same under DeCosta.

Redskins not expecting Alex Smith to play in 2019: Previously viewed as having a chance to return by training camp, Smith encountered some complications in the hospital. Infections induced several additional surgeries. Now, Washington’s quarterback appears to be in line to miss all of what would have been his age-35 season. Smith appeared in public this week but did so with crutches and a cumbersome apparatus bracing his injured leg. If the former No. 1 overall pick is to return to the field, it will take an arduous process to do so.

Coordinator shuffle continues, with Chiefs entering equation: The Chiefs scored 24 points in the fourth quarter of the AFC championship game and still lost, with a crucial defensive penalty denying the franchise its first Super Bowl berth in 49 years. Two days later, the Chiefs fired DC Bob Sutton. After being connected to Rex Ryan, they replaced him with Steve Spagnuolo, a longtime Andy Reid assistant before his Giants days.

The Dolphins also identified their defensive coordinator in Patrick Graham, and the Bengals are going young on offense, pairing 35-year-old Zac Taylor with 34-year-old OC Brian Callahan. Tight ends coach continues to be a launching-pad Titans position, with new OC Arthur Smith following in Mike Mularkey‘s footsteps in rising from that role to a key job. The Adam GaseDowell Loggains partnership will continue in New York.

Nothing is official in Dallas yet, but 30-year-old Kellen Moore may be set for a staggering rise. The recently retired quarterback is the Cowboys’ top OC candidate. And he may be tabbed to call plays, with Jason Garrett‘s CEO-type role in line to continue.

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5 Key NFL Stories: 12/9/18 – 12/16/18

Eagles shut down Carson Wentz. Philadelphia no longer has a shot at winning the NFC East, but the club still has roughly a 15% chance of getting into the postseason via the NFC’s No. 6 seed. The Eagles aren’t taking any chances with their franchise quarterback, however, as they’ve reportedly decided to shut down Wentz for the rest of the season. While Wentz hasn’t officially been placed on injured reserve, he’s not expected to play again in 2018 as he recovers from a fracture in his back. Instead, Philadelphia will turn to Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, who is likely to become a free agent in 2019 after the Eagles decline his $20MM option.

Changes in OaklandReggie McKenzie‘s days with the Raiders appeared numbered as soon as head coach Jon Gruden was given a 10-year contract earlier this year, but the two men insisted they’d be able to work together. That stance lasted only until December, as McKenzie was relieved of his general manager duties last week. Director of college scouting Shaun Herock has been installed as Oakland’s interim GM, but the team is expected to search for a new personnel chief this offseason. Undoubtedly, the Raiders will look for a GM that will work more closely with — or perhaps, take orders from — Gruden.

…and in Minnesota. McKenzie and Gruden never seemed like an ideal pairing, and neither did Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. Zimmer, of course, won that battle in Minnesota, and DeFilippo — who was viewed as a rising head coach candidate — now finds himself out of job. DeFilippo’s pass-happy offense never seemed to complement Zimmer’s defense-first style, so new OC Kevin Stefanski will now attempt to implement a more run-heavy approach. Don’t look for DeFilippo to return to the Eagles (at least in 2018), but he could be in line for a new coaching gig next year.

Eric Berry returns in Kansas City. The Chiefs didn’t make any moves for a defender at the trade deadline (despite rumors that they were looking for a safety), but KC will now see the return of a former All-Pro. Berry hadn’t seen the field since Week 1 of the 2017 campaign, when a ruptured Achilles ended his season prematurely and kept him out until last Thursday. Berry’s return will help a middling Chiefs pass defense, but the unit took another hit against the Chargers when starting cornerback Kendall Fuller went down with a fractured wrist, leaving his availability for the playoffs in doubt.

NFL bans Martavis Bryant indefinitely. Rumors of a Bryant suspension had been making the rounds since September, but the league never made a formal announcement until last week, meaning Bryant will be out of football for the foreseeable future due to a substance abuse ban. Oakland shipped a third-round pick to Pittsburgh for Bryant during the draft, then released him and re-signed him just before Week 2. All told, the “White Tiger” managed only 19 receptions and 266 scoreless yards on the year.

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5 Key NFL Stories: 12/2/18 – 12/9/18

Packers make a change at the top. After more than 12 seasons in Green Bay, Mike McCarthy is out as the Packers’ head coach, becoming only the second Super Bowl-winning coach in league history to be fired at midseason. Although initial reports suggested McCarthy’s preference is to coach again in 2019, he may be willing to sit out the 2019 campaign with the hope of finding the right job. McCarthy, who posted record of 125-77-2 during his Packers tenure, gave way to interim head coach Joe Philbin, who secured a victory in his first game today.

Broncos lose Emmanuel Sanders. Feeling on top of the world following three straight wins, Denver received horrible news last week when Sanders suffered a torn Achilles during a practice session. With their recent run of success, the Broncos had catapulted themselves back into wild card contention, but that path will become all the more difficult without Sanders. With the veteran wideout on the sidelines, Denver will turn to Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, and Tim Patrick for the remainder of the year.

Greg Olsen goes down. The Panthers lost Olsen for the year after he suffered a foot injury in Week 13, and there’s an outside chance his Carolina career could be over. Olsen, who’s flirted with entering broadcasting in the past, is now 33 years old and has missed significant action in each of the past two seasons. Carolina, which could be making changes to its decision-making structuree, would save $3.4MM by making Olsen a post-June 1 cut in 2019.

A.J. Green done for season. The Bengals’ lost 2018 campaign continues to go down the drain: after placing quarterback Andy Dalton on injured reserve with a thumb injury, Cincinnati did the same with Green after he tore ligaments in his toe. Green will finish the year having appeared in only nine games, posting 46 receptions for 694 yards and six scores. Green, who will be 31 years old when the 2019 season gets underway, is under contract for only one more year.

Redskins down to third/fourth quarterback. After losing starter Alex Smith to a brutal broken leg (one that has now caused multiple infections and could threaten Smith’s career), Washington will now also be without backup Colt McCoy after he suffered a broken fibula of his own. After reportedly considering Colin Kaepernick, the Redskins went in another direction, signing Josh Johnson to play behind Mark Sanchez. After Sanchez struggled mightily against the Giants on Sunday, Johnson could be in line to start for Washington in Week 15.

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5 Key NFL Stories: 11/25/18 – 12/2/18

Chiefs cut Kareem Hunt. Video released on Friday showed Hunt shoving and kicking a woman during a February incident, and led the NFL to place the second-year pro on the commissioner’s exempt list. Shortly after the league’s decision, Kansas City announced that it had waived Hunt. Both the club and the NFL claimed they’d not previously seen the video. The Chiefs are expecting a six-game suspension for Hunt, and it’s unclear if any team will claim him off waivers. He’s actually being investigated for two separate incidents: the episode referenced here, plus a separate matter in which he allegedly punched a man in the face in June.

Redskins shocking claim Reuben Foster. Foster was arrested last Sunday on domestic violence charges, and the 49ers — who’d been exhibiting a zero-tolerance policy with Foster given his previous arrests — immediately waived him. Given his history of off-field issues, Foster wasn’t a likely candidate to be claimed, but the Redskins did indeed bring in the 2017 first-rounder. Washington has dealt with serious backlash to its decision, but the club has argued Foster will never play for the Redskins if the allegations prove true. Like Hunt, Foster is now on the commissioner’s exempt list.

Jaguars change OC, QB. It’s difficult to believe the Jaguars were just a few plays away from the Super Bowl earlier this year. Last week, Jacksonville announced that it had fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, replacing him with quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich. And the changes didn’t stop there, as the Jags also moved away from starting quarterback Blake Bortles, turning instead to backup Cody Kessler. Even with those alterations — plus the loss of Leonard Fournette (suspension) and Andrew Norwell (IR) — the Jaguars still defeated the Colts on Sunday

Andy Dalton done for the season. If the Bengals weren’t already toast after losing to the Browns in Week 12, their season essentially ended in the following days, when Cincinnati announced it was placing Dalton on injured reserve with a thumb injury. Dalton posted one of his best seasons in 2018, but injuries on both sides of the ball doomed the Bengals’ campaign. Cincinnati will move forward with Jeff Driskel at quarterback: against the Broncos on Sunday, Driskel completed 25-of-38 attempts for 236 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.

Broncos lose Chris Harris Jr. The Broncos are still in the hunt after defeating the Bengals in Week 13, but they’ll have to make their playoff push without their best cornerback. Harris suffered a fractured fibula on Sunday and is expected to miss the rest of the regular season. However, Harris believes he’ll be able to return if Denver slides into the postseason as the No. 6 seed.

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5 Key Stories: 11/18/18 – 11/25/18

Latest arrest ends Reuben Foster‘s 49ers tenure: The 49ers cut the cord on Foster after his third arrest of 2018. Foster was arrested for first-degree domestic violence battery Saturday night in south Florida. The alleged victim is Foster’s ex-girlfriend, who admitted to making false allegations that led to the linebacker’s arrest earlier this year. Foster avoided a conviction (but not an NFL suspension) on the previous charges — for marijuana possession and domestic violence — but GM John Lynch and ownership agreed on the decision to waive Foster. He will be on the waiver wire but would obviously be a controversial claim. The 2017 first-round pick has shown flashes of dominance and may well receive another chance. But for now, he saw his repeated off-field issues lead the 49ers to move on from him.

Texans owner Bob McNair dies: The Texans’ owner since their inception, McNair died on Friday at the age of 81. He was battling multiple types of cancer. He purchased an expansion team in 1999, three years before the Texans debuted, and oversaw three AFC South championships. McNair previously pursued ownership opportunities with the Dolphins and Rams but ended up bringing football back to Houston, doing so six years after the Oilers’ departure.

Jadeveon Clowney unlikely to hit market: The Texans are planning to apply their 2019 franchise tag to Clowney, who is in the final season of his five-year rookie contract. This will be an interesting process, since Clowney’s primary role is to rush quarterbacks. He’s listed as a defensive end/linebacker on Houston’s roster. Clowney’s camp will surely argue he should earn the defensive end tag (roughly $17MM), but he could also be tagged as a linebacker (roughly $15MM). The 2014 No. 1 overall pick would be in line for a $20MM-plus-AAV deal were he to hit the market.

Alex Smith recovery timeline illuminated: Suffering a Joe Theismann-esque injury in 2018 will give the current Redskins quarterback a chance at continuing his career, which Washington’s Super Bowl-winning signal-caller did not receive in 1985. Smith’s recovery process from his broken leg is expected to take between six and eight months. This would put training camp as a potential goal for the former No. 1 overall pick. The 34-year-old passer signed a four-year extension that runs through the 2022 season. Washington will go with Colt McCoy for the time being and signed Mark Sanchez to be the longtime backup’s new backup.

Browns’ coaching search heating up: Gregg Williams led the Browns to another victory on Sunday, but the team is expected to conduct a thorough search to replace Hue Jackson. Despite his rough stint in Denver and recent decision to spurn the Colts, Josh McDaniels has been connected to the Cleveland opening. The Cleveland-area native isn’t the only big name that may be involved. The Bruce Arians-Browns rumors continue to swirl, and the team is also expected to contact another Cleveland-area native: Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell. Meanwhile, Jackson’s futility in northeast Ohio may not dissuade the Bengals from naming him as Marvin Lewis‘ successor. That was once the rumored plan and may be again.