|After making a key defensive staff change, Andy Reid could be taking a more direct approach with the offense as well. (AP)|
Eagles coach Andy Reid fired embattled defensive coordinator Juan Castillo last week and replaced him with secondary coach Todd Bowles -- a move some in the organization pushed for following the 2011 season, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
Reid's decision to switch the long-time offensive line coach Castillo to defensive coordinator before the 2011 season was always controversial, and following the team's failures on defense last season, some on the staff urged Reid to make a change. The Eagles attempted to rehire former coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, according to league sources, but he ended up as the Saints defensive coordinator after balking at a chance to serve in the same role with the Colts. The Eagles were among several suitors for Bowles, Miami's interim head coach at the time. Reid ultimately chose to keep Castillo as the coordinator and named Bowles secondary coach.
Bowles was already heavily involved with halftime adjustments and devising game plans before his promotion, according to team sources, and the defensive backs made strong improvement under his guidance. But Castillo, not a defensive play caller by nature, still struggled to get some calls in on time and to implement in-game adjustments.
Bowles' scheme is much more aggressive than Castillo's, and team sources expect the Eagles to bring more pressure under the former NFL safety -- they have just seven sacks this season despite an abundance of pass-rushing options. Bowles, who made occasional in-game calls as a player with the Redskins under former defensive coordinator and head coach Richie Petitbon, is viewed as someone who has been groomed for this type of position for a long time.
Meanwhile, team sources also expect Reid to take more control over the offense coming out of the bye. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has been calling all of the offensive shots, sources said, but it is not out of the question that Reid assumes play-calling duties if the offense, and quarterback Mike Vick, don't improve.
Reid's loyalty to his staff runs deep, but he is under intense pressure to get the Eagles (3-3) turned around, and his future with the team likely hangs in the balance. In his 14th year, Reid is the NFL's longest-serving head coach, but owner Jeffrey Lurie has made it clear changes will come if the team does not meet expectations this season.
Reid would be a coveted coaching free agent should his tenure end in Philadelphia, and it may be worth noting in light of the Chargers' struggles that Reid lives in the San Diego area. There has been speculation linking Reid to the Browns should he part ways with the Eagles after the season, with the hiring of ex-Eagles president Joe Banner in Cleveland last week fueling that speculation, but sources said it would be an extreme long shot to see Reid and Banner working together again.
NFL tells owners no team in LA until at least 2014; Dodger Stadium site has support
The NFL's Los Angeles committee updated league owners on progress regarding potential sites for a stadium in the region at the annual fall meeting, and according to sources who were present, the NFL essentially ruled out a move for next season and expressed some concerns about the feasibility of a downtown stadium.
Updates were provided on four sites during Tuesday's meeting in Chicago, including the downtown project that AEG is proposing and recently received approval from the city council. However, several league sources expressed doubt that the would-be buyers of AEG -- the entertainment giant is for sale and could fetch upwards of $10 billion -- would be willing to pour massive amounts of money into the downtown project, as the current deal for prospective funding required AEG to do. A change of ownership at AEG could also lead to a more viable agreement at that site, some inside the effort to build in Los Angeles suggested, though there remain significant issues regarding parking and infrastructure in this area.
Areas around Dodger Stadium, where parking and space is abundant, are highly desirable to the league, sources said, and discussions in that regard are ongoing. This site has not received the national attention of others, but is very logical, particularly if the Dodgers were to move downtown. I asked commissioner Roger Goodell about the area around Dodger Stadium during his post-meeting press conference, and he called it “a terrific site” and seemed enthused about the possibility. One highly-connected source maintained that Dodger Stadium has been and still is “the preferred choice” of all the current options.
Another site in Carson, Calif., just off the freeway close to where the LA Galaxy and Chivas of MLS play, remains on the NFL's radar as well. At the league meeting teams were apprised that the site did not receive some of the public funding earmarked for it, which has cast its viability in further doubt.
The league continues to monitor the possibility of a stadium in City of Industry, a long-standing option, but concerns remain about its lack of proximity to downtown and the relative remoteness of the areas directly surrounding the project (though a major commercial district has been proposed to surround the completed stadium).
The NFL has stressed that any LA stadium must be equipped to handle two teams, sources said.
Tagliabue presence in Bountygate case raises more questions than answers
Former commissioner Paul Tagliabue is now in charge of the appeal in the Saints bounty case, after Goodell recused himself Friday. Tagliabue will oversee the process when the parties convene on Oct. 30 for the hearing.
The case remains under close scrutiny from a federal court in Louisiana, and if the appeals process is resolved via suspensions from Tagliabue to which the players object, there is still a strong chance the NFLPA asks a judge to rule on granting a stay against the suspensions. Already, sources close to the players have privately raised issues about Goodell's relationship with Tagliabue, and the fact that Tagliabue's law firm serves as outside counsel for the league and is representing Goodell in the Vilma lawsuit. Those potential conflicts of interest could be raised both within the league's appeal structure as well as through the court process, sources said.
|As Roger Goodell hands the Bountygate case to predecessor Paul Tagliabue, many questions about the process remain. (AP)|
There are also certain circumstances whereby the NFLPA could appeal parts of any Tagliabue decision to arbitrator Stephen Burbank, and then, subsequently, to a three-person CBA appeals panel as well.
The NFLPA will continue to raise questions about the process ahead of the Oct. 30 date, and the union is also lining up potential witnesses, though the expectation is that few if any would actually be compelled to take part in that process.
The NFLPA had requested to have former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former Saints assistant coach Mike Cerullo present for the Oct. 23 hearing, as both submitted affidavits that have become key pieces of evidence in the case. That request became public as part of a motion filed by suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma this week.
According to sources with knowledge of the situation, the NFLPA had also asked for Joe Hummel, former head of NFL security, to be present, as well as former FBI investigator Pat Foran, who helped in the league's investigation. Hummel conducted many of the interviews in the investigation before retiring from the league shortly before Goodell made his initial ruling. There have been differing accounts of which players Hummel interviewed, and to what extent. Sources said Hummel could also be a key witness in Vilma's defamation of character lawsuit against Goodell, should that trial move into the deposition phase. As previously noted, several other parties in this case are weighing their legal options as well.
The NFL was attempting to comply with the NFLPA's request to make Williams, Cerullo and Hummel present as part of the appeal process when Goodell was overseeing it, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, but multiple members of the trio had balked at the process. It remains unclear if Tagliabue will be able to convince them to appear -- sources involved with the case highly doubt they will. Given Tagliablue's lack of previous involvement in the case and prior appeals, sources say a request for additional witnesses is likely, and the NFLPA has been in contact with former Vikings defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, among others. Kennedy, who was named as a whistleblower by the league in this case, has recently raised issues with statements made by the NFL regarding his role in the process and the extent of his contact with NFL security officials. There have also been discrepancies between what was said by the league, and various suspended players, regarding which investigators they met with at various times.
Meanwhile, some in the union wonder if Tagliabue, who was commissioner in 1996 when the Packers were not punished for a pay-for-performance program, would better serve their purposes as a witness in this case, rather than in his new role of arbitrator. The NFLPA has yet to make any public comment on Tagliabue being assigned the case, as the union continues to gather information. With the new developments, the potential for this case to drag into 2013 remains.
Steelers will be without Pouncey on Sunday night
Add Maurkice Pouncey to the list of players out for the Steelers as they take on the Bengals Sunday night. The star center will not play, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, though he has been listed as questionable heading into the matchup.
The Steelers are also without safety Troy Polamalu, running back Rashard Mendenhall and tackle Marcus Gilbert. The good news is that most of this bunch is expected back within a few weeks, and LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison, who have battled injuries themselves, are back.
But on Sunday the Steelers will face the AFC's leading sack team (20 sacks) without its starting center and right tackle. Also, projected starting guard David DeCastro remains on the IR-Designated to Return list and is not eligible to return until after Week 8.
Long-standing neck issue may end Fujita's career
Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, one of the players fighting his Bountygate suspension, has likely played his final NFL game due to neck problems but continues to discuss his future with doctors, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Fujita has told friends he's been warned by doctors of possibly life-altering consequences, raising the specter of a future need for a wheelchair, should he try to play again and his problems persist.
Fujita, who has suffered from neck “stingers” recently, has had chronic problems with them in the past. While at Cal, where he went from a walk-on safety to a stalwart linebacker, he was plagued by the problem to the point where he would sometimes get stingers from simply sleeping in a certain position or sitting in one spot too long. He had an offseason surgery in college to remove bone spurs from the area, and overcame the condition to develop into a fifth-round draft choice of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2002.
This latest recurrence came as something of a surprise, as Fujita had fought back from injury to play for the Browns while his suspension was being appealed. This latest flare-up is a recurrence of his earlier neck issues, sources said, and while a final decision will not be made for likely another week or so, as Fujita continues to consult with experts, “it does not look good,” several sources said.