The regular season is over and we’re ready to head into the playoffs and the hiring cycle…
• The Broncos‘, led by new CEO Greg Penner (the leader of the Walton ownership group) is well engaged and is, as expected, focused on coaches who have previous experience in the role. Four of the six candidates they plan to interview – Sean Payton, Jim Harbaugh, Dan Quinn and Raheem Morris – have previously served as head coaches, with Niners defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and insider candidate Ejiro Evero, the current DC of the team, standing as the two outliers.
While the pursuit of Payton or Harbaugh might end up looking more like a recruitment than an interview process, I have a feeling Penner, who wasn’t there for the hiring of Nathaniel Hackett, is thrilled. to go through a thorough process, and he looks like he’ll have an open mind with that.
• The case of 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is interesting. The Broncos and Texas I’ve made requests to interview him, and I think he’s a particularly strong candidate in Houston, where he was a key player for six years. The question from there will be where he is ready to go.
Ryans earned around $50 million as a player. He is also in a position, as a coordinator working with Nick Bosa and Fred Warner, to continue producing top-flight units, which should protect his stock as a head coaching candidate. And so, with the financial security and stability of his reputation and the team he works for, Ryans can afford to be picky, and many in the industry expect him to be.
Last year, Ryans withdrew from vikings research. I don’t think he would be afraid to do the same with the Broncos or the Texans if he didn’t feel things were going well with those franchises.
• Speaking of the Texans, with the 38-year-old Ryans, and the two Eagles coordinators Jonathan Gannon (40) and Shane Steichen (37) asked, it’s pretty clear that Houston is heading in a different direction with this head coaching hire after hiring 60s in consecutive years (both showed their age at work in their own ways).
As we’ve been saying for a few weeks now, Gannon is definitely a name to watch. He had a good interview in Houston last year and may have gotten the job if not for some factors beyond his control, and has strong ties to Nick Caserio, a native of northeast Ohio, through mutual friend Josh McDaniels. Internally, there’s a strong belief that Gannon would be a much better philosophical couple for Caserio than were David Culley or Lovie Smith.
That being established, I would add that I’ve heard that owner Cal McNair would be wary of going Patriot/Patriot with his next coach/general manager pairing. So even though I know Caserio loves and respects patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo and Steelers senior defensive assistant Brian Flores, the timing may not be right for either of these guys in Houston.
• Interesting to see the first three names Kevin Stefanski typed in for the defensive coordinator interviews – Mayo, Flores and Titans senior defensive assistant Jim Schwartz – at Cleveland were all coaches raised by Bill Belichick. Schwartz crossed with Browns GM Andrew Berry in Philadelphia too, and was the most popular name. But I wouldn’t rule out the other two. Flores might even be the clubhouse favorite.
As for Mayo, I understand he is very open to taking a co-ordinating position elsewhere after four years as a defensive assistant in New England. Mayo handles a fair number of coordinator duties for the Patriots, helping with game planning and arranging defensive meetings, but the ability to be a primary caller and freelance coordinator elsewhere would help him stand out in the ever-growing list of solid defense. -the first candidates for head training in the next few years.
One thing that would help a team make Mayo a DC would be geography – I think he would like to stay within commuting distance of New England, so he doesn’t have to move his family twice to become a coach -chief. And he has the flexibility that Ryans does to be selective, no matter how solid his NFL reputation is.
• The Titans’ offensive coordinator change has been in the works for some time, and it’s probably fair to say that Todd Downing hasn’t improved his chances of surviving being charged with a DUI following Tennessee’s latest win, a week before Thanksgiving in Green Bay. .
The team’s next OC will be Mike Vrabel’s fourth, and the two times he’s had to replace a starting coach in that role he’s looked internally – moving from Matt LaFleur to Arthur Smith in 2019, and Smith to Downing in 2021. It wouldn’t shock one if it happened again, with well-regarded passing game coordinator Tim Kelly a top contender for the role.
If Vrabel looks outside the building, Alabama OC Bill O’Brien (his former boss in Houston) and former Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury (a former New England teammate) have ties. close with the Titans coach.
• O’Brien’s name is also on the radar in New England. Owner Robert Kraft expressed his displeasure with the state of attacking personnel to those in the building over the past two months, and he referred to ‘critical assessments of all elements of our football operation’ in a letter to season ticket holders on Monday. Kraft also has a relationship with O’Brien, who was once seen as a potential successor to Belichick.
The question would be how aggressive the Patriots are willing to be to get him. Belichick has never really been in a position where he had to bid for a coordinator candidate, with nearly all of his hires in those jobs being promotions (Josh McDaniels was the only exception in 2012, and that was after McDaniels was fired from the Rams staff). So if Tennessee, Vegas or Tampa come after O’Brien, will Belichick compete for him? Will Kraft push the issue? It will be interesting to see.
If not O’Brien, Kingsbury would be another name to watch. I can say the Patriots did their homework on him. The question would be whether Kingsbury wants to become an assistant again, with the Cardinals pay the remaining four years on the contract extension he signed last February.
• The Panthers have been dragging their feet a bit to send in requests, but I expect them to look to keep Steve Wilks (potentially with Eagles coach QB Brian Johnson as OC), and at least look around for young assistants at the attacking spirit, the area that owner David Tepper has been doing a lot of his research in the past two months.
A few names to watch out for there? the Lions OC Ben Johnson, bengals CO Brian Callahan, Eagles CO Shane Steichen and Invoices OC Ken Dorsey.
• Michigan RB Blake Corum broke the news to my buddy Rich Eisen that he’s staying in Ann Arbor for his senior year rather than turn pro. And there’s a little more to the story than that. The knee surgery Corum underwent in December was actually a complete meniscus repair, an operation that requires a six-month rehabilitation process. This rehabilitation process would have put Corum on the back burner for the entire project process, and in this case, that would be a big deal.
Why? Corum is part of a group of guards who have been placed behind Bijan Robinson of Texas and Jahmyr Gibbs of Alabama, and among that group there could be plenty of jockeys – a potential third-round pick could become a sixth turn, and vice versa. Going into that kind of situation with a knee injury, and the kind where long-term viability is a question, would have been a problem, as would the fact that he couldn’t have run a 40 when the biggest La question he faces as a prospect is how fast he is going.
So really, it was more of a practical decision for Corum than a romantic one. It made sense for him to go back, prove he was healthy and be ready to race for the scouts in 2024.
• Similar situation with Ohio State TE Cade Stover, which was with Corum in this intermediate range. Stover, who has spent most of his time as a college defensive player, is a raw, physical athlete and strong enough to earn the nickname Farmer Gronk (he comes from the cornfields of Ohio). But in the national semi-final, Stover suffered a disc injury that would have cost him much, if not all, of the pre-draft preparation.
Ultimately, if you’re an NFL team and you watch a raw athlete like Stover and project his development to a position he’s still learning, you probably want to see him lift, jump and run. And so rather than not being able to do that this spring, Stover decided it was better to go back to school, make another run at a national title, develop more at his position and then be able to train for the scouts in 2024.
• And we’ll end with this – in the cases of Corum and Stover, I would say that NIL is more than just an advantage these guys get for staying. Each guy could earn more this year as college stars than as late-round NFL picks.
And honestly, there’s also a league advantage there, in that NIL keeps the guys in school and gives them more time to develop before they come to the pros. And those kids can make that call, which is always tough, without it automatically being a bad business decision to stay on campus.