With 290 combined wins, 23 playoff victories and four Super Bowl appearances between them, few coaches have accomplished what the Eagles' Andy Reid and ex-Seahawks and Packers coach Mike Holmgren have at the NFL level. Yet, should Reid fail to end up back in Philadelphia, both figures would be on the open market this offseason. Both Reid and Holmgren would be highly selective about any potential landing spots, according to those who have worked with them in the past, and the likelihood of either going to a team facing a full rebuild would be scant.
If the inconsistent Chargers part with general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner, and the Eagles part ways with Reid, many believe the longtime face of football in Philadelphia would have considerable interest in the possibility of relocation to San Diego. The Chargers have been near the top of their division for years and have a former Pro Bowl quarterback in his prime in Philip Rivers. Reid is a native of Southern California, has a gorgeous home on the beach in the San Diego area and is known to love the area. Plus, as some close to him note, the media and fan climate in San Diego is vastly different from the cauldron that he has worked in.
Holmgren, who is finishing up a disappointing three-year run as the Browns' team president, has said he would consider a return to coaching, where he already has a case for potential Hall of Fame induction. Some sources who know Holmgren well believe Dallas is the one potential opening that would truly interest him, given the competitiveness of the roster, the skill players present and his long relationship with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Holmgren and Jones worked closely together for more than a decade on the NFL's Competition Committee. If the perfect scenario does not arise, sources close to Holmgren expect him to retire.
No contract talks between the Dolphins and Bush; Running back expected to test free agency
The Miami Dolphins face the daunting task of trying to secure a host of their core players for the long term, with running back Reggie Bush, left tackle Jake Long, top defensive lineman Randy Starks, top corner Sean Smith and top receiver Brian Hartline all in the final year of their deals. The Dolphins have had no substantial discussions with the group since before the season, sources said, and talks with most of those potential free agents did not expand beyond the preliminary stage. Considering many of those players are likely to be among the best available talent at their positions, agents and rival executives have been surprised by the lack of movement. League sources said the Dolphins plan to do the bulk of their contract work after the season -- a strategy that could prove dangerous -- as all of those players save for Long are having strong seasons. Miami has an abundance of cap space in 2013 but will continue trying to seek the proper value for players. Internally, the Dolphins know it will be impossible to retain them all, but the fact that none have been signed yet, with the team surging in the standings after years of suffering, is somewhat alarming and means general manager Jeff Ireland will be very busy in January trying to construct long-term deals.
Bush, who has shined in Miami since being acquired from New Orleans before the 2011 season, is among those who have made no progress on a deal. Given Miami's recent drafting of running backs Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller and the expected free-agent interest in Bush, he is unlikely to be back with the Dolphins in 2013. Bush will turn 28 in the offseason.
Despite his struggles this season, the former No. 1 overall pick Long is considered a very good player at an immensely important position, and retaining him is the main priority for Miami, according to a team source. But Long will want a massive deal given his production prior to injuries mounting and his play slipping, and that will be a complicated negotiation, team and league sources believe.
Starks is having an excellent season and is vital to Miami's defense as a three-technique tackle with the versatility to play various positions in different schemes. It will be difficult to keep Starks from exploring the market. He has nine years of experience, will turn just 29 in December and has never needed surgery.
Smith continues to improve and has excelled since former corner Vontae Davis was dealt to the Colts. League sources believe Smith could end up being the player of this group the Dolphins use the franchise tag on, assuming they get a long-term deal done with Long. The price tag on corners rose drastically in free agency in 2012.
Hartline, whose 662 receiving yards this season are already a career-best, should be the easiest to get done. League sources expect the Dolphins to get him wrapped up first.
Concerns over Rita Benson the reason for rejected clause in Sean Payton contract
The rejected clause in Sean Payton's still unresolved contract extension with the Saints was negotiated by Payton's side due to concerns over the succession of the team's ownership, according to league sources.
Payton and owner Tom Benson agreed to a stipulation in the three-year extension, set to begin in 2013, that Payton would be able to void the contract should general manager Mickey Loomis be suspended or fired, sources said. Commissioner Roger Goodell voided that contract over objections with the contract language, and the issue remains unresolved. The clause was included as protection for Payton as there are concerns among many in the Saints' organization as to what will transpire should Benson, 85, no longer serve as owner.
Benson's granddaughter, Rita Benson LeBlanc, is an executive with the team and the likely heir to Benson in running the franchise. She has clashed frequently with Loomis and others in football operations, rifts that are well known within the organization and around the league. Sources said Benson suspended his granddaughter last year for reasons unknown (the Saints never commented or confirmed her suspension), and she was essentially barred from the team for an extended period of time. There are fears from many within the organization about how the team would function under her guidance, and the would-be clause in Payton's contract is seen as further evidence of those fears.
The contract was structured in a way that would give the head coach options in the event of an organizational shake-up under LeBlanc.
The NFL released a statement last week saying that Goodell has yet to make a decision on Payton's contract status for 2013, and apart from the statement is saying the matter is between the Saints and Payton. When asked about the situation by reporters in attendance at last Sunday's game in Atlanta, Goodell said, "Now, it's up to the team and Sean Payton. So until I get something back, it's up to them.”
At some point, either Payton or the Saints could ask Goodell to make a ruling on Payton's status for 2013. Some believe the commissioner could rule that the final year of the deal be served out in 2013, given that Payton was suspended for the 2012 season as part of the league's Bountygate discipline. Payton's advisers believe he should have free-agent status for 2013 should he not reach an agreement with the Saints, which sets the stage for a potential legal battle depending on Goodell's ruling.
Goodell also will have to rule on Payton's reinstatement after the Super Bowl, and he could pick a date for reinstatement that arrives late in the offseason, a decision that would severely limit Payton's ability to land elsewhere.
It is highly unlikely negotiations would resume unless Payton is given a directive from the NFL making it clear that he can negotiate, sources said. Payton, in comments to Fox last week, said he planned on remaining with the Saints. Loomis, who returned from his suspension last week, said he expected the issue to be resolved and for Payton to stay with the Saints. Should Payton actually hit the open market, Dallas would be a natural landing spot -- Payton lives there, was a top assistant for the Cowboys previously and has a close relationship with owner Jerry Jones.
Former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo says he will participate in bounty hearing
The NFL and NFLPA are trying to secure appearances by several witnesses for the Nov. 20 appeal hearing of commissioner Roger Goodell's ruling in the Bountygate case. Whistleblower Mike Cerullo, a key witness in the league's case, has indicated he would take part, according to sources familiar with the process. Suspended coach Gregg Williams has indicated he will not take part, sources said. The NFLPA has also asked for Joe Hummel, the former head of NFL Security, and other investigators in the case to be present, but union sources do not believe they will cooperate with that request.
Cerullo is a former Saints employee who turned over evidence to the league in the case and also submitted an affidavit of testimony (as did Williams). Cerullo -- now director of football operations at Princeton -- was dismissed from the Saints under duress, sources said, following their Super Bowl season. According to sources, Peter Ginsburg, the lawyer for suspended Saint Jonathan Vilma, submitted materials to the NFL indicating that Cerullo was let go for twice giving false reasons for taking leaves of absences from the team, and that, upon being dismissed, Cerullo vowed that he would get revenge on linebackers coach Joe Vitt, whom he had worked under.
Having Cerullo present at the hearing, which will be overseen by former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, would be significant for both sides. Lawyers for the players and union believe he has credibility issues, and his materials and testimony are at the core of the NFL's case and subsequent discipline of Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Scott Fujita. Meanwhile, federal judge Helen Berrigan is watching the process closely but has yet to rule on whether Tagliabue should be recused from the case. The ruling on a recusal could still come even after Tagliabue had rendered a decision in the matter, legal sources said.
Banner's absence being felt in Philly?
With the Eagles in tumult and facing possibly critical decisions with their coaching staff and roster -- most notably Andy Reid and quarterback Mike Vick included -- some in the league have pointed to the departure of longtime president Joe Banner as a possible contributing factor to the upheaval. Banner, now running the Cleveland Browns, was the longtime right-hand man for owner Jeff Lurie from the time he purchased the Eagles, with Banner running the day-to-day operations in Philadelphia before leaving earlier this year.
Banner had been with the team since 1995, learning the football business and becoming a central figure in getting the team a new stadium, while juggling the salary cap and helping Philadelphia procure talent long term with various contract structures. For the first time as an owner, Lurie is charting a course for the franchise without the former team president, with Howie Roseman (who trained under Banner) now the general manager and coach Andy Reid having considerable sway in personnel matters.
The team has come under fire for many coaching and personnel decisions in recent years -- as their front office make-up was changing -- and this season has been marked by a weekly quarterback controversy and the in-season firing of defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, a former offensive line coach whose promotion raised eyebrows when announced in 2011. The sweeping free-agent signings in 2011 have largely failed, apart from pass rusher Jason Babin, and the Eagles will have big decisions moving forward if the team continues its current form and ends up out of the playoffs again.
Lurie has a strong relationship with Roseman, who has worked hard to transition from the business/contract side of football to the personnel side, and would undoubtedly lead what would be the team's first coaching search since 1999. Roseman is seen as one of the brightest young executives in the game. But some execs have cited the exit of Banner, a longtime fixture and sounding board there, as a reason for the weekly tumult.
Steelers receive no clarification on questionable call against Clark
Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who has received his share of fines in the past, was called for an illegal blow to the head in last Sunday's win over the Giants, although replays indicated he had in fact struck receiver Victor Cruz in the shoulder area.
The NFL issues statements and clarifications on officiating decisions from time to time, and points out missed calls, though generally they involve game-altering, controversial plays. No statement was issued this week on the Clark hit and, according to league sources, there was not any private communication with the Steelers to note that the call was missed.
Given the wealth of fines that Steelers defenders have racked up and their at times public clashes with the league office (linebacker James Harrison in particular), there is a heightened sensitivity about these issues with the Steelers. Some in the organization said they were surprised there was no internal communication from the league. Steelers players have complained in the past that they believed they have been fined and disciplined for plays they deemed clean hits and felt like the league treated them more harshly than others. Clark himself has been a vocal critic of the league and, when contacted, expressed some concern that his penalty was not clarified, but added via text: “It's all good! It won't matter when we win the Lombardi.”
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