NFL insider notebook: Browns' OC pickle, keeping Keenum in Minnesota and more
If Hue Jackson is truly relinquishing play-calling duties, the Browns could land a big fish to run the offense
The Cleveland Browns are talking to potential offensive coordinators about their vacant position, and, should Hue Jackson follow through on his remarks from early in the offseason and hand over full play-calling duties, this is actually an attractive job. Very attractive.
New general manager John Dorsey, a well-respected football man, is overhauling the front office, and they are going to find better players and draft a talented quarterback first overall. As an added bonus, should Jackson continue his dogged pursuit of the record books (0-16 and 1-15 in two years on the job in Cleveland), then it's easy to predict an in-season firing in 2018 ... which could give the new offensive coordinator a chance to run the entire team, break Cleveland's long losing streak and greatly raise his visibility and viability for future head coaching jobs, there or elsewhere. (I'd also note that Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams did a nice job with his unit last season under extreme duress and has head-coaching experience as well.)
So, given all of that, it makes perfect sense to be interviewing guys like Ben McAdoo and Todd Haley for the OC job. Of course, the only way the Browns are going to land someone who has prior head-coaching experience and vast time spent running an offense is if this job comes with full authority to run the offense without meddling from Jackson. And, well, let's just say there is are all kind of rumblings about just that. Will Jackson sign off on a coaching hire that could quickly undermine his own job status? How will all that play out, with constant clashes between coaching and personnel part of what's undermined the Browns for years? Might always-embattled and rarely-winning owner Jimmy Haslam have to intervene?
Let's just say that people are talking about this dynamic, both in that organization and around the league. Jackson, who has failed to identify or develop a quarterback in Cleveland to this point and earned considerable criticism for how he handled rookie DeShone Kizer last season, is fairly set in his ways and has offensive concepts he strongly believes in. And he already hired a quarterback coach a few weeks back that he knows well through his Bengals ties in Ken Zampese, who didn't make it through September in Cincy last season.
There is significant consternation about how this hire will play out both within the Browns organization, and outside of it as well, as candidates are wondering what the job will ultimately entail. If the whispers about Jackson believing he and Zampese could have it all under control are true, then this becomes a very different job in the end. It's well known that Dorsey is hopeful of bringing in the best game-planner and play-caller he can possibly find, and if he lands McAdoo or Haley, then it's a win for 2018, and possibly beyond.
But it's already beyond ludicrous that Dorsey was forced to keep a coach after an 0-16 season, and it's ridiculous that another rookie quarterback is going to thrust into this backwards scenario next season with his head coach already on the hottest of hot seats in NFL history. But that's The Haslam Way, so no surprises there, I suppose.
And should things go totally sideways – this is Cleveland after all – well, gulp, even in February or March or even April you can find a head coach, and most likely one capable of getting better and not worse off a 1-15 season. Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub and Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz got far less head-coaching buzz than I expected, but both would be worthy replacements in a pinch. Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich would make sense, too.
A year after we saw three general managers fired after the draft, and a week after we saw Mularkey fired despite a playoff win, would it really be all that crazy by current standards to see a 1-31 coach let go at some point prior to the start of the ensuing season? I suspect it won't happen, but then again, in this league and with this franchise in particular, you never know.
Tag coming for Keenum?
There is a growing sense among NFL general managers who are in need of a quarterback and among agents who represent potential free agent and trade-candidate quarterbacks that the Vikings are going to place the franchise tag on Case Keenum. In fact, the more people I speak to the more that seems a fait acompli. It pretty much has to happen.
Keenum has become a fulcrum for their team and, especially with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, keeping this quarterback is imperative with only a practice-squad passer under contract for next year. His chemistry with his receivers, versatility and playmaking ability are elements the Vikings cannot let leave the building at a time when they seem to be poised to contend for years to come. It would be beyond shocking for him not to be tagged.
There have been no negotiations between the sides all season, and I'm on record back during the Vikings' bye week as noting that was the last remaining window to buy low on the former journeyman. This is no fluke, and the stakes are too high now. Minnesota will regret not pushing hard for a three-year, $45 million deal -- or something like it -- several months ago. But that ship has sailed now, and with his playoff success Keenum's value is secure, with a 2018 QB franchise tag.
Jets in a bind with Anderson
The Jets have a real problem on their hands with receiver Robby Anderson. He has plenty of speed and ability ... but he is a full-blown ticking time bomb off the field.
Two straight offseasons with an arrest, and clashing with the police again. Anderson managed to take a major leap forward in terms of potential court discipline to say nothing of NFL discipline, if the police report involving his latest arrest is indeed an accurate portrayal of his actions.
This is why he didn't get drafted out of Temple -- behavioral problems along with substance abuse concerns -- and the Jets, after just dealing away Sheldon Richardson for similar off-field concerns, must have nightmares about actually extending this receiver. Of course, if he manages not to make it through his first three seasons without more legal problems, it becomes even more of a moot point how to move forward contractually.
Reshaping the Titans offense
Fewer coaching hires in this entire cycle will be more imperative than who Mike Vrabel hires as his offensive coordinator in Tennessee. That has to be a home run.
I actually like the model of hiring a defensive head coach, even when quarterback development is paramount, because you can find those sort of QB whisperers as a coordinator. And Vrabel needs one for Marcus Mariota in the worst way possible.
The idea of hiring a college coach to run a college offense -- rather than start to make Mariota function more as a pocket passer and determine how much he can grow there -- could be perilous. The kid is always hurt, and this offense needs to evolve and not just be all RPOs all the time (the Bears situation will be interesting to monitor in this regard, too, given the composition of their coaching staff).
Cardinals still searching for a coach
I continue to hear that Steve Wilks made a strong statement with the Cardinals ownership and brass. They don't seem to be on any particular timetable out there, but my gut at this point is it will end up going to Wilks or Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores.
League sources said Flores has secured permission for a second interview with the Cardinals for next week -- the exact day is still being determined but Friday may make the most sense -- and Arizona's brass has buzzed about him since his first interview.
Going off the grid wouldn't be unusual for them at all. Both of these defensive coaches could possibly bring Eagles QB coach John DeFilippo as their offensive coordinator, and he has also been on Arizona's radar.
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