If Colts owner Jim Irsay is going to begin a full-fledged search for a general manager this late in the offseason after firing Ryan Grigson on Saturday, then he might as well start with the final four teams left in the fold.
The clubs still playing football have several qualified candidates, and while some around the league believe Irsay might ultimately promote Jimmy Raye III from within for the now-vacant position (and that would actually make a lot of sense), at the very least he seems intent on using the upcoming Senior Bowl week as an opportunity to explore other options. Of course, the winning teams this weekend will now have candidates who could not be hired until after the Super Bowl, but the final four alone has some names that Irsay should explore.
Steelers exec Omar Khan, the team's vice president of football and business administration, has garnered interest for general manager jobs dating back years. He has pulled out of several high-profile jobs for various reasons and he's viewed incredibly highly by the Steelers. I don't see him leaving Pittsburgh, but I'd want to find out. The Patriots have a similarly well-positioned, coveted exec in Nick Caserio, who many believe will be in New England at least as long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are, if not much longer. He opted not to speak to the 49ers about their general manager job -- given the serious concerns about ownership -- but he did at least speak to the Dolphins a few years back. Even if Irsay doesn't think he can get him, he ought to find out for himself.
Two of the Packers' rising young executives, Eliot Wolf and Brian Gutekunst, recently interviewed for the 49ers general manager opening (more on that later), and withdrew to sign extensions with the Packers. The timing is probably not right for them to now pursue this other opportunity mere days later, but the Colts job with Andrew Luck is much more attractive than the 49ers opening. And, heck, what does Irsay have to lose by finding out. The Falcons also have a former general manager already on staff in Scott Pioli, and some good young execs on board as well.
It was only a week ago that the Chiefs were still playing football, and their director of player personnel, Chris Ballard, is a hot commodity, too. He didn't want much to do with that 49ers opening and he's a straight shooter who won't tell an owner what he wants to hear but rather what he thinks he needs to hear. He'll be very picky about where he goes and when ... but he actually might click with a guy like Irsay. Staying in the Midwest would probably appeal to him as well.
The reality is, guys would line up and wait for a chance to speak to Irsay about this opening. This team is viewed as a potential sleeping giant. The AFC South is improving, but it is still arguably the weakest grouping in the NFL. A few years ago the Colts were in the AFC title game. An offseason devoted to retooling that defense might be all the spring board that the Colts need, and, trust me, Irsay is commanding a lot of people's attention right now.
Who's got next in San Francisco
So, yeah that 49ers GM search hasn't exactly been a smooth operation. The trepidation by so many about where the franchise is going and the ability of Jed York to steward it is very real. There are also concerns about how much influence executive Paraag Marathe, who is helping lead the coach and GM search, wields with York. And there is an added layer to this mix now with Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan primed to take that coaching job.
Shanahan will command significant authority with the 49ers if/when they convince him to take the job -- and I continue to hear that they'll do what it takes to get him to come on board. Make no mistake, this new GM will be more or less reporting to him. Shanahan will have sway over the 53-man roster and he will be in control. Most of the people I talk to in NFL front offices believe that Vikings exec George Paton will end up out of this mix in the end, as he will eventually take a job where he has full authority of those matters. If anything, there is an expectation that this job search will expand this week once the 49ers have their second meeting with Shanahan.
There are a few execs who are well regarded, but are a bit off the radar, who have ties to Shanahan who I think might be worth watching. The 49ers will listen to what Shanahan has to say, and he's not shy to volunteer what he thinks he needs to win. Expect to hear plenty about Kirk Cousins as a tag-and-trade option between the 49ers and Redskins when Shanahan gets this job. A young exec like Alex Santos of the Redskins has a history with Shanahan, as does Morocco Brown, who was let go by the Browns in one of their many misguided purges in 2016.
Former Browns head coach Mike Pettine is also still out there on the coordinator circuit. Shanahan was his offensive coordinator in Cleveland for a spell and some of Pettine's assistants were on the 49ers staff there this year. With time an element for whenever Shanahan takes over there, I can't help but wonder if Pettine reunites with him in San Francisco.
So, yeah, it could get interesting for the 49ers. And despite what anyone else might tell you, they know they are in a desperate situation here and having to re-start a coaching search if Shanahan were to be the latest to pull out of this thing would be a disaster for them on top of their many other recent atrocities.
More notes from around the NFL:
I find myself more puzzled by the day about the Chargers hire. If they wanted to keep Ken Whisenhunt that badly as coordinator, they could've made him the head coach. He's done it twice before and it certainly didn't end well in Tennessee, but if rookie head coach Anthony Lynn has a slow transition and things don't go well in Los Angeles this season, I'll keep scratching my head. They clearly wanted to keep a bunch of that staff together, and could've just hired a defensive coordinator and moved on that way.
The Redskins did not seem overly blown away by some of the defensive coordinators they interviewed, and very much were hoping they could have lured Gus Bradley or Wade Phillips to take that position. The fact that they ended up promoting Greg Manusky from within speaks to that after what was a long and winding process.