The Bears are concluding their coaching search on Sunday with Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who is very interested in that position and the Chargers' post, likely more than any others, according to sources. Ken Whisenhunt was interviewing with the Chargers on Saturday, sources said, after Lovie Smith did so last week. San Diego also will interview Jay Gruden next week.
Gruden also is interviewing with the Jaguars and Eagles and already interviewed with the Cardinals. Arizona could end up waiting for Denver coordinator Mike McCoy for its opening, but it could be a long wait if the Broncos keep winning. San Diego also has interest in McCoy, but, again, timing could be an issue there.
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League sources said they do not believe Brian Kelly will leave Notre Dame for Philadelphia, and the Eagles have interviews scheduled for next week. The Eagles are conducting an exhaustive process themselves and, league sources said, they were among the teams to approach former coach Bill Cowher, very interested to gauge his interest in their opening, but Cowher rejected overtures summarily.
Contrary to reports I have no plans to go back into coaching. I plan on being with one team and that is with you (CBS) says Bill Cowher— CBS Sports PR(@CBSSportsGang) January 12, 2013
The Bears are expected to hire an offensive-minded coach, according to team sources. Jaguars new GM Dave Caldwell still is expected to hire San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman for his head coaching opening. But unless the 49ers lose this weekend, Caldwell will have to wait to interview him. In the meantime, Gruden will interview and the Jags also will interview Mel Tucker, their defensive coordinator, who nearly got the head coaching job a year ago and is thought of very highly by owner Shahid Khan.
Tucker could be retained as defensive coordinator. Also, the Chargers are considering retaining their defensive coordinator, John Pagano, and Arizona would like to keep its defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, who has one year left on his deal with the team and interviewed for several head coaching jobs.
Competition Committee to evaluate playing surfaces
Amid the controversy surrounding the field conditions at FedEx Field in Washington last week for the wild-card game between the Redskins and Seahawks, several league sources said the NFL's Competition Committee was preparing to discuss more strident standards moving forward.
The sources said there has not been much dialogue about this between the committee members yet but stressed it is expected to be discussed during the annual March meeting. New language might not be formalized in time for owners to vote on the matter at that time. But according to one source, the committee anticipates "a review of the entire field policies with the league likely expanding the monitoring and enforcement standards."
As one Competition Committee member noted, hammering out exact language could be tricky. Do you, for instance, insist that all teams with grass fields still in playoff contention by December resod them (which could incur a large expense for some owners who ultimately won't end up in the postseason, anyway). Regardless of what the league decides, sources said the NFLPA is watching closely and is weighing whether or not to file a formal grievance on the conditions of that field.
Robert Griffin III and Chris Clemons of the Seahawks each required knee surgery after the game, and players and coaches from both teams complained before and after the game about poor conditions. Coaches told me that they left the game with green paint staining their shoes -- the result of areas of dirt that appeared to be merely painted over -- and the NFLPA views it as a health-and-safety issue.
Other teams with grass fields, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, have become accustomed to re-sodding during the season, often doing so after Thanksgiving, when Heinz Field is in heavy use by the University of Pittsburgh and for high school games. Finding the right spot in the schedule, with road trips planned or perhaps the bye week, is key as well to getting the field repaired with the requisite time for the new sod to take hold.
The NFLPA has requested a copy of the field certification for FedEx Field last week. But according to union sources, they have yet to receive it. The field must be certified 72 hours before the game. The NFLPA conducts its own field study every other year, and this year's is not yet finished. The NFLPA is expected to push the league for more rigid standards as well.
Whisenhunt-Browns talks broke down over control
The Browns were high on former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt as their next head coach, according to sources with knowledge of the situation, before hiring Rob Chudzinski late Thursday night. Whisenhunt was flown from his home in Arizona back to Cleveland on Thursday for a second interview, spending several hours with team president Joe Banner before the Browns moved on to hire Chudzinski, who had been Carolina's offensive coordinator.
According to sources, Banner and Whisenhunt could not reach an agreement on how much say the front office would have in rounding out the coaching staff. Whisenhunt wasn't seeking any personnel control or anything out of the ordinary for a head coach, but Cleveland's front office wanted input on certain staff issues and ultimately were most comfortable with a rookie head coach.
The Browns had significant interest in college coaches Chip Kelly (Oregon) and Bill O'Brien (Penn State), but both stayed in school. They also met with Doug Marrone, who left Syracuse for the Buffalo Bills during Cleveland's courtship of Kelly. Chudzinski's strong relationship with top offensive coordinator Norv Turner also was a key to his hiring, sources said, with the Browns hopeful of landing Turner (Chudzinski worked under Turner in San Diego).
Banner has been a fan of the spread formations and read-option offenses, and Chudzinski had success running those elements for Cam Newton in Carolina. Mike Vick, who Banner helped bring to Philadelphia during his time with the Eagles, is a fit in that scheme as well, and could well land with the Browns as a free agent, as he will not renegotiate his deal to stay with the Eagles and it's highly unlikely the Eagles pay him $15.5 million next season.
Facing losses, Ravens want to keep Ellerbe
The Ravens, whose season would end on Saturday should they lose at Denver, are facing critical choices this offseason, with heavy dollars and cap space already invested in key veterans and numerous high-profile free agents. They don't have too much wiggle room this offseason.
Quarterback Joe Flacco will be franchised if a long-term deal is not reached -- and there has been no movement in that regard since contract talks fell apart in the preseason. Ray Lewis already announced his retirement. Should Ed Reed, a pending free agent who has not talked contract with the club since before the 2011 season, end up a prized free agent, he could be gone as well.
Linebacker Paul Kruger has starred for Baltimore during the second half of the season and playoffs (registering 2.5 sacks last week). But league sources said he fired his agents this week, is set to sign with a major firm next week and is looking for a hefty payday, in excess of $8 million a year. Given some of the Ravens' concerns about Kruger's decision-making off the field, it's unlikely they would get into a bidding war should Kruger be as sought after as he hopes.
Similarly, starting cornerback Cary Williams, who the team also has worries about off the field, turned down a three-year, $15-million offer from the Ravens this season, sources said, and Baltimore might not go much higher than that to retain him. Williams has told teammates that he thinks he might be worth $8 million-$10 million a year, sources said. With Baltimore expecting top corner Lardarius Webb back from knee surgery and hopeful that recent first-round pick Jimmy Smith blossoms, going that high for Williams is highly unlikely.
It's unusual for young starting pass rushers and corners to hit the market, so interest is expected for both. The Ravens are very high on young inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who has become the engine for the defense, particularly with Lewis out much of the season. Linebackers in general come much cheaper than corners and edge rushers, and retaining Ellerbe will be a priority, sources said.
One year later, Peyton Manning is a bargain
At a time when Joe Flacco is about to earn $15 million on a franchise tag and Matt Ryan and Tony Romo, despite their playoff failures to this point, could be in line for massive extensions this offseason, it's worth going back to the contract that Peyton Manning signed with Denver in March.
Manning, who was coming off multiple neck surgeries and dealing with a nerve problem at the time the Colts released him, built in injury provisions for the Broncos. The deal essentially broke down into a series of one-year contracts, with 2013 being a pivotal year. Manning earned $18 million in 2012 and has a base salary of $20 million in 2013 that becomes fully guaranteed if he is on Denver's roster on the last day of the 2012 league year (in March). And $5 million of that total comes in the form of a salary advance.
He is set to make $20 million in 2014, as well. However, should he suffer a neck injury in 2013, then the injury guarantees on future years' salary can be voided. Manning's 2015 salary ($19 million) becomes fully guaranteed if he is on the roster the last day of the 2014 league year. He makes $19 million that season, as well.
So the Broncos could get out of the deal on a yearly basis before the final day of the previous league year. At this point, given how well Manning has played and how healthy he has been, that's not a consideration.
He remains right there at the top of the league in terms of average salary per season. But with Drew Brees recently passing him and so many other quarterbacks looking at new deals in the next 12 months (Aaron Rodgers among them), you won't hear anyone in Denver complaining about the money that they owe Manning.
Arians' inner-ear infection no longer an issue
Colts offensive coordinator Brice Arians was hospitalized last week because of an illness that originally was not diagnosed but was later found to be an inner-ear infection, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
When Arians was hospitalized in Baltimore, where the Colts were playing, there was not an ear-nose-and-throat specialist present to evaluate him, according to the source. He was discharged from the hospital and flew to Indianapolis on Monday night. But still feeling ill, he went back into the hospital for more testing.
On Tuesday, he was diagnosed with an inner-ear infection and received treatment. On Wednesday, he was feeling back to normal and able to drive, walk and exercise normally. He received a clean bill of health and will interview with the Bears, Chargers and Eagles from Sunday through Tuesday.