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The NFL Today: Panthers changes could extend to Ron Rivera

The Panthers made a change in the GM role last week, and head coach Ron Rivera is on thin ice as well. (US Presswire)

Carolina owner Jerry Richardson parted with longtime general manager Marty Hurney this week, the first of what are likely to be sweeping changes in the organization, league sources said. With Cam Newton struggling and the Panthers near the bottom of the NFL again, Richardson is reviewing all aspects of the organization, including second-year head coach Ron Rivera. Any new general manager would likely want to evaluate Rivera as well.

One possible candidate who is already being chattered about in league circles is Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. McCoy worked in Carolina as an assistant from 2000-08, had a good relationship with Richardson and left on good terms, sources said. McCoy was lauded for his work in Denver with running quarterback Tim Tebow in 2011, and he is excelling at the opposite end of the spectrum with Peyton Manning in 2012. Since developing Newton into a franchise quarterback is a priority for the Panthers, McCoy's history with QBs would be a mark in his favor.

McCoy was under consideration for head coaching jobs a year ago, Oakland among them, but pulled out of consideration to remain with the Broncos. It's also worth noting that McCoy has a strong relationship with former Broncos general manager Brian Xanders, who could merit consideration to replace Hurney.

Richardson has hired a consulting firm to aid in his quest to find a new general manager and is expected to cast a wide net. The Panthers will not be alone in their search, as major front office and coaching changes are expected around the league now that owners have secured labor and TV deals, and since the salary cap will stay relatively stagnant until about 2015.

This year in particular, execs expect to see more front office movement than the norm. Besides Carolina, Cleveland, Kansas City, San Diego, Jacksonville, Buffalo, and the New York Jets have been identified as franchises where major changes could be looming. Dallas and Philadelphia are not expected to alter the front office structure, but coaching changes could be afoot if both teams continue to underperform.

Polian seeking a return to the NFL; Lombardi could return as well

Bill Polian, a longtime president and general manager in the NFL who served most recently with the Colts, is looking to return to the league, according to sources. The 69-year-old Polian has been working in a media role this year after his dismissal from Indianapolis, but with major changes possible across the league, his timing for a return could be great.

Polian's son Chris, former general manager of the Colts, is also seeking possibilities in the NFL, and the father and son would likely come as a package deal. While Carolina -- where Polian worked from 1994-97 -- is not a possibility given the circumstances surrounding the elder Polian's exit there, his resume and experience will be hard for other candidates to match.

Some thought Polian might retire after his long tenure with the Colts ended amid all the corresponding drama about the end of Peyton Manning's career in Indianapolis, but he is open to NFL opportunities, sources said.

Former Raiders front office figure Mike Lombardi is eying a return to the league as well. Lombardi, who interviewed for the 49ers general manager job in 2010, is seen by sources as a strong candidate in Cleveland, where he has ties to new team president Joe Banner. Several league sources expect Banner to bring in a veteran executive to help oversee personnel, and perhaps a younger administrator as well to work on contracts and salary cap and begin to learn football operations. Lombardi previously worked in Cleveland as Director of Player Personnel under Bill Belichick, and his talent evaluation skills are well regarded. Lombardi, who currently serves in a media role, has been considered for several positions within the league since being fired by the Raiders in 2007.

Former Bears general manager Jerry Angelo is also eying a return to the league next season, sources said. Angelo was fired in January after an 11-season run as GM in Chicago.

Rams expect Amendola and other key starters back after the bye

When the Rams lost top receiver Danny Amendola in Week 5 to what appeared to be a fractured clavicle, the injury was not only potentially season-ending but also life-threatening. The way Amendola's bone popped internally nearly ruptured his trachea and aorta. Yet Amendola dodged the bullet and was able to return to practice this week. The wideout is listed as questionable for Sunday's game in London, but the team has actually been pointing to a return after next week's bye, in time to face current NFC West leader San Francisco on Nov. 11, team sources said.

The Rams also expect that two of their top offensive linemen, tackle Rodger Saffold and center Scott Wells, will be back for that game as well.

Wells has barely even played for the team -- the key free-agent acquisition was placed on the IR/Designated to Return list in Week 1 after fracturing his foot -- but is progressing well and on track to come back after the bye. Saffold has barely played this season either, suffering a neck injury in Week 1 and then a knee injury in Week 2, however team sources said he is on track to return after the bye as well.

The offensive line has been a particular concern for the Rams, with quarterback Sam Bradford constantly under duress, and getting two veteran starters back would be huge as they try to stay in the NFC West race in the second half of the season.

Big names could merit discussion at trade deadline, but not much activity expected

The NFL and NFLPA agreed to push back the trade deadline by two weeks, moving it now to the Tuesday after Week 8, hoping to spur more movement to what is generally a placid occasion. But with parity in full bloom -- and really being taken to the extreme in the AFC where almost no one is out of the playoff hunt nearing the midpoint of the season -- a survey of general managers and agents produced little expectation for significant wheeling-and-dealing this year.

Some big-name players have been talked about internally by other teams -- Rams running back Steven Jackson, Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe, Titans running back Chris Johnson -- but the likelihood of a trade for any of them is extremely remote, given their salaries and approaching availability on the free-agent market. Jackson has been banged up this season, and makes $7 million. Assuming the remainder of that deal would require significant investment for a 29-year-old player whose deal voids at the end of the season. Furthermore, you would have to entice the Rams with enough value in trade for them to believe it's worth more than the compensatory pick they would receive from the league for his departure.

“Those are very difficult trades to make,” one NFC exec said. “Budgets are set, so to get your owner to spend another $3 million on a veteran, now, in October, for a rental, that can be a tough sell.”

The infrequently used Tim Tebow has been mentioned as a trade target, but interest in the backup would be minimal. (AP)

Bowe is expected to depart Kansas City as a free agent after the season, and is making $9.5 million on the franchise tag; as a franchise player he is not eligible to be extended until after the season (although some execs and agents, inspecting the particular CBA language involved, believe it could at least be worth asking the Management Council to make a determination on whether a new team could attempt to extend a franchise player they acquired). That severely limits the trade options, and there have been no trade talks involving Bowe as of the weekend, according to league sources, and none expected. Likewise, Johnson, who is set to make $10 million in 2013, with $9 million fully guaranteed shortly after the Super Bowl, is not expected back in Tennessee but few others teams would want to inherit that contract now.

Overall, there has been little trade chatter, even for role players, general managers said. “I haven't heard a thing,” said one GM who has been a willing deal-maker in the past. “It's crazy.” Said another aggressive GM: “I haven't heard a thing, honestly.”

However, several of those same execs said they would not be surprised if little-used back-up running back LeGarrette Blount of the Bucs was dealt by 4 p.m. Tuesday. They also pointed to St. Louis receiver Steve Smith as a candidate and a backup quarterback like Colt McCoy (Cleveland) or Matt Moore (Miami), should a club like Arizona feel it needs to make a move with Kevin Kolb injured and John Skelton struggling.

There has been media speculation about the Jets possibly dealing Tim Tebow, given how little he has played and the sideshow that follows him in New York, but general managers point out there was no interest in Tebow last season, when he was coming off decent production relative to what he's done this year. Jacksonville was the only other interested team. There would be scant market for Tebow, and remember, Jets owner Woody Johnson was instrumental in a move that has business purposes beyond football. Johnson has said Tebow will be a Jet beyond this season, and he paid $2 million for the right to take on Tebow's contract as part of the trade with Denver. Johnson won't be eager to move on quickly after that commitment.

Wallace likely done in Pittsburgh after 2012; Jones-Drew's Jags future in doubt

Mike Wallace, having a subpar season in Pittsburgh while working under the franchise tag, looks set to depart in the offseason barring a major change in the second half of the season. Wallace (29 receptions, 397 yards, 4 TD) has not been a vertical threat this season, has struggled for consistency since coming back from a prolonged holdout, and is no longer the team's top pass-catching option.

Wallace seems to be struggling with the emergence of recently-extended Antonio Brown as the No. 1 receiver. Wallace's confidence has waned and the Steelers would not be inclined to franchise him a second time, or pay him the $11 million or so a year he was seeking in the offseason, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

All signs are pointing to a departure, unless Wallace was seeking to significantly alter his demands, and that's unlikely at this point given his stance last offseason. The Steelers want to extend receiver Emmanuel Sanders as well, and won't tie up too much money in any one position. Aditionally, letting Wallace walk would land them a strong compensatory pick.

Wallace was particularly ineffective last week against the Bengals, and has struggled to find his way in the offense under new coordinator Todd Haley. Coaches believe he should have held on to several longer passes that have come his way, and with the Steelers a small-market team that has been under cap duress in recent years, Wallace is looking like a luxury rather than a necessity.

The Jaguars face a tricky situation with disgruntled, and now injured running back Maurice Jones-Drew as well. Jones-Drew held out of all of camp, seeking a new deal, and is set to make $5 million next season, the final year of his deal. Several other teams expect he may end up hitting the free agent market.

Jones-Drew will miss several weeks with a foot injury, a new deal is highly unlikely given how owner Shahid Khan handled his holdout. The Jags could seek to trade or release him, with a minimal cap hit of $1.8 million. He turns 28 this March.

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