Busy Monday in the NFL, with the first coaching change of 2022 in the books…
• Perhaps the best lesson to take from Matt Rhule’s 38-game streak as Panthers coach—you can’t figure out your quarterback situation forever. And, eventually, if you’re unstable at the most important position on the field, it’s going to cost you out there, and probably with the guy cutting the checks, too.
Be it Teddy Bridgewater (15 starts) or Sam Darnold (11 starts), Baker Mayfield (five starts) or PJ Walker (two starts) or Cam Newton (five starts), Rhule never decided on a quarterback.
Instead, he and the Panthers tried to build the rest of the roster first, and wait for the right one to come along. They offered first- and fifth-round picks, plus Bridgewater, to the Lions for Matthew Stafford in 2021. They really liked Justin Fields in 2021, but passed on him with the No. 8 pick to take Jaycee Horn, having already rolled the dice. on Darnold. Then, twice, they made a run at Deshaun Watson, but passed up doing a reworked, fully guaranteed deal for him, before turning down a mediocre draft class at the position.
The result was that the rest of the roster was built, the defense got really good under Phil Snow (Carolina was second in total defense), but the whole operation ended up being undermined by the team’s overly patient approach to filling the quarterback position.
They also went to great lengths to kick the can down the road. Combining the capital spent on Bridgewater, Darnold, Mayfield and 2022 delegate Matt Corral, the Panthers sank a sixth-rounder in ’21, a second and two quarters in ’22, a third in ’23, a conditional fourth/fifth in ’24. , and approximately $61 million in cash into the position. And that’s without counting the $6 million Newton made last year, or the roughly $2.5 million Walker earned from the team the last three years (which takes the cash total over $70 million).
And that’s the problem with all these half-measures—if they don’t work, eventually they add up, and you might find that you were better off splurging in the first place. Of course, their inability to land vets like Stafford and Watson wasn’t all Rhule’s fault. But he didn’t pull the trigger when they had the chance on Fields, or even trade for Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa the year before, and now there’s no telling how different things could have been had they made such a swing. .
The good news for the franchise, however, is a result of all that building will leave the next coach with a solid foundation to bring down someone like CJ Stroud or Bryce Young.
• The interesting thing about the quarterback debate is that it actually applies to a number of college coaches who failed at the position in much the same way Rhule did. Nick Saban shuffled through Gus Frerotte, Daunte Culpepper and Joey Harrington, while missing out on Drew Brees, in Miami. Chip Kelly had Mike Vick, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford in Philly. Greg Schiano had Josh Freeman and Mike Glennon in Tampa.
And that doesn’t mean any of these guys would have killed it with a better quarterback. But it would have given them a better chance. I also think it’s fair to wonder if the lack of urgency to get the position right is because everyone has successfully done it in college jobs (where you have to do that to have lasting success).
Anyway, here’s a look at the record of college coaches hired in the NFL since 2000:
Urban Meyer, Jaguars 2-11
Matt Rhule, Panthers 11-27
Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals 26-27-1
Bill O’Brien, Texans 52–48
Chip Kelly, Eagles 26-21, 49ers 2-14
Doug Marrone, Bills 15-17, Jaguars 23-43
Greg Schiano, Pirates 11–21
Jim Harbaugh, 49ers 44-19-1
Pete Carroll, Seahawks 121-76-1
Lane Kiffin, Raiders 5-15
Bobby Petrino, Falcons 3-10
Nick Saban, Dolphins 15-17
Steve Spurrier, Washington 12–20
Butch Davis, Browns 24-35
Not a hugely successful band, of course. But from the group of 14, I would name two big successes (Harbaugh, Carroll), and four more moderate successes (O’Brien, Kingsbury, Kelly, Marrone). And while that’s not much evidence … is it much worse than the record NFL assistants have? It really isn’t.
• One final thing about the Panthers—the calls have already come in from other teams asking about their veteran players. Two in particular, I’m told, have the attention of opposing GMs. One is pass rusher Brian Burns, who is among the best defensive players in the NFL, still only 24 years old and in a contract year. The other is receiver DJ Moore, who has an affordable contract with a prorated salary of $20.735 million for the rest of this year, and $52.265 million due in 2023-25, and years of experience as a No. 1 receiver.
Caroline, for her part, also showed no willingness to deal. But those are the two most interesting.
• The pirates‘ Julio Jones’ injury management — GM Jason Licht said Sunday the team is “playing the long game here” with the decorated-but-aging star receiver — is most certainly not unforeseen. Jones had to be managed through the season for years, and in the twilight of his time as a Falcon that meant practicing sparingly during the season, something that eventually carried over to the Titans last year.
Tampa, on the other hand, is quite adept at this point at handling such situations with veteran players. The goal, as Licht alluded to, is to get Jones to the finish line. And you don’t do that with a player carrying Jones’ aging and injury history pushing him in October.
• Browns QB Deshaun Watson was back in the building on Monday, and my understanding is that he was pretty much a fly on the wall on Day 1 back to work. The offensive staff had their normal game review with the players, and the focus was, of course, from a quarterback standpoint, on Jacoby Brissett (something Watson understood). The impression those there got was Watson stayed on top of everything, and the goal now is just to bring him up to speed on everything that’s happened the last five weeks.
The bigger transition will come when Watson returns to practice in mid-November, when the coaches can acclimate him to calling plays and working in and out. For now, the focus is just getting and keeping Watson where he needs to be on the mental side of the game.
• Cleveland too did business on Sunday, sending a 2024 sixth-round pick to Atlanta for LB Deion Jones and a 2024 seventh-round pick. The Falcons wanted to part with Jones because his fit in Dean Pees’ scheme wasn’t ideal, and he had a bunch of injury problems (he’s actually still on IR).
But the fresh start in Cleveland helps him. With Anthony Walker’s injury, there’s work ahead of him, and he’s been playing in a Seattle-style scheme similar to the one Browns DC Joe Woods ran earlier in his career under ex-Falcons coach Dan Quinn. If he can stay healthy, Jones brings a veteran presence, strong speed and good instincts to a defensive unit that has been very up-and-down for five weeks.
• Sure, after the way the last few years have gone, there were fair questions to ask about Stephon Gilmore’s NFL future—injuries sent an otherwise stellar run in New England to the sidelines for him, and kept him from really take off in Baltimore. And the Colts looked at that, and his physical skill set (long, athletic, etc.), and figured with better luck, he could be reborn in Gus Bradley’s defense, which asks a little less from corners.
So far, so good, and the amazing thing is Gilmore has brought more than just the kind of plays he made against the Broncos on Thursday night (with a crucial PBU and game-sealing). He also added a kind of attitude and edge to the defense in the big moments.
“Without a doubt,” said Frank Reich. “I mean, because he’s here, you can tell he has a different presence about him—a real confidence—and how does he see the game? Yes. And then I just think he was great, he’s a quieter personality, but his presence is really strong, so you could feel that. As we went into training camp, you could tell he was going to make a lot of plays. I mean, he’s such a good cover.”
• Don’t look now, but the Jets may have hit a home run with their rookie class. Breece Hall is averaging 4.9 yards per carry with 275 rushing yards through five games. Garrett Wilson leads the team with 43 catches, good for 282 yards and two scores. Sauce Gardner has a team-leading six pass breakups and earned his first pick on Sunday. So for what was clearly a crucial draft for the Jets, with the fruits of the Jamal Adams and Sam Darnold trades baked in, it looks like it yielded what could end up being a foundational class for the team.
“The rookie class did really, really well,” coach Robert Saleh told me on his drive home Sunday night. “And I know he didn’t finish the game, but Jermaine Johnson has quietly had a really nice year. Max Mitchell came very well. Michael Clemons is playing really well, so a lot of guys are playing at a pretty high level for rookies. Now, obviously, they have a long way to go, in terms of just being consistent over four quarters and game-to-game. But you could see where as the game evolves and they see more and more, they can download the information in real time.
“They’re getting faster and faster, and they’re showing their explosiveness. It’s encouraging that as games go on they become more explosive because it tells me they’re downloading the information and they’re recognizing what they’re seeing on the play. And because of that they can just play for free. But at the same time, the trick is, can we get that from the first quarter? And that will come with repetitions.”
Last week, we detailed Zach Wilson’s progress (“He’s just going up and he’s only going to get better, we’re really excited about the direction he’s going,” Saleh said) in this space. Add to that the development of the rookies, and the arrow points up in Florham Park.
• I thought it would be interesting to get Patriots RB Rhamondre Stevenson a rundown on his offensive coaches after Stevenson’s big game Sunday and fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe’s first start. So here’s what Stevenson had to say about Matt Patricia.
“First of all, it’s very hard work,” Stevenson said. “Offensive coordinator in the NFL, that’s a very hard job — right on the outside looking in. And just being here, seeing how hard he works, everybody else on the coaching staff as well, they’re just working hard, just trying to figure out what we do well, trying to put us in the best position. And yeah, I got all the respect for those offensive coaches.”
I think there’s a key line there—trying to figure out what we do well. It seems that by going deeper down, gap-scheme runs, and playing those, the Patriots have found something they’re pretty good at, which makes sense with the massive line and physical backs they have on their roster. . And having that to hang their hat on should help Patricia achieve the stated goal Bill Belichick set for his offensive staff in the offseason to streamline and simplify the scheme.
• I’m still blown away that the Lions went for it on fourth down six times on Sunday. Detroit’s o-fer on Sunday in that section set a league record for fourth downs, but I’m not sure that’s going to make Dan Campbell gun-shy right now. Last year, the Lions set records for fourth-down attempts (41) and conversions (21). They are up to 18 and 8 in those categories already this year, putting them on pace to break both records.
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