INDIANAPOLIS -- Ever since Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie uttered the phrase "emotional intelligence," in regards to how little of it Chip Kelly had as an NFL head coach, the term has stuck with me. It's become a barometer of sorts – Kelly quickly flamed out in San Francisco after his brief tenure in Philadelphia and is back coaching teenagers in college – added to the list of other qualities a team should search for in its top coach, and it struck me today watching Sean McVay speak just how much of this characteristic he possesses.
Clearly, the Rams' turnaround pretty much begins and ends with him, and his ability to add his eyes to personnel decisions, put together a strong staff, completely reinvent the offense, cater it to players' strength and to call each and every play on that side of the ball every Sunday. Make no mistake -- he is a rock star coach barely past the age of 30 who could not have had a more splendid rookie season as an NFL head coach.
But in a world where ego and hubris are often one's undoing, you get the sense that when McVay speaks about the imprint others have made on the Rams, he truly believes it. This isn't a guy merely saying the right thing.
Despite all of the empirical evidence suggesting his acute worth, he doesn't seem to be buying into his own hype. All of the guys who rooted for him on the way up around the league -- and they are spread across places like San Francisco and Oakland and Washington and Tennessee and Atlanta now -- think as highly of him now as ever.
None of this seems to have gone to his head. Yeah, his wardrobe perhaps is a little more L.A. now. But I get the sincere sense talking to others around the league that the rest of McVay remains decidedly -- well, Ashburn, Virginia, where he spent countless hours working his way up Kyle Shanahan and Jay Gruden's coaching staff to completely the climb to his lofty perch now.
In some franchises there might be some quiet concern about how such a charmed first season might go about altering the personality, attitude or humility of a coach this young. But not with the Rams, and for just cause. Nothing about the way McVay presents himself sways from his underlying belief that it will take a strong collective to keep the Rams on this upward trajectory, and there is a sincerity and earnestness to the way he expresses himself to peers, players and the media that could foreshadow many more playoff trips.
"Everything we do starts with building and developing relationships," McVay said during his session with the media Wednesday at the scouting combine. "We've got great leaders on our staff that enable you to listen and learn as well, and that can enable you moving forward."
McVay remains ever-quick to credit defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and special teams coordinator John Fassel for the team's rapid rise, and is absolutely his own worst critic.
"It's all about surrounding yourself with great people," he said. "Certainly the year allows you the opportunity to look inward ... If you are being honest with yourself, you can be more organized and be a better play-caller."
Trust me, 2017 was no fluke with this wunderkind coach. He gets leadership on every level and has already displayed a willingness to delegate, hire outside of his own buddy pool, and allow others to prosper (he willingly let offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur leave for a lateral move with the Titans because it allowed him to call plays) in a manner not all coaches embrace, much less all coaches this young.
The recent trade for troubled-but-uber-talented corner Marcus Peters with the Chiefs shows that the Rams remain a proactive team willing to gamble, and given the recent and future departures from their secondary, landing Peters so cheaply on his rookie deal mitigates the risk. Expect the Rams to thrust considerable assets into that defense -- including eventually a mega-deal for Aaron Donald -- given some of their needs and list of free agents on that side of the ball. McVay isn't the type to demand more for the offense, where he could quite frankly do more with less (should the likes of Sammy Watkins walk).
"You can never have enough guys who can rush and cover on defense," said McVay, ever the team player. The Rams are in good hands. For 2018 and well beyond.
Wilkerson market already heating up
It was no secret that Muhammad Wilkerson, the Jets' highest paid player, was not going to be with them in 2018. I've been , as have many others, after he was benched for much of December for being tardy. What has been far less chronicled is the degree of injuries he dealt with, with a chronic foot problem and serious shoulder issues, both of which have cleared up.
A few years removed from being compared with J.J. Watt as the most versatile and impactful defensive lineman in the NFL, Wilkerson started to pick up quick interest following his release on Wednesday. Other teams have been monitoring this situation for weeks, waiting for him to hit the open market, and he's going to fare better than some might expect. He's still just 28 years old and can play all over the line, and he was flashing back to his peak form before the late-season benching.
Trust me, his old defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, now with the Steelers, knows what he can do and he is a scheme for the Steelers (though Pittsburgh's cap situation is tight and they have bigger needs). After shedding a lot of salary and talent already this offseason, the Chiefs need major help on defense and Wilkerson's former coordinator, Bob Sutton, thinks very highly of him. A few years back, when the Jets were trying to get Wilkerson signed, teams like the Bucs and Raiders were intrigued ... and doesn't this seem like the quintessential Bill Belichick move as well? Buy (relatively) low on a former star from a bitter rival who fits the scheme and would solve some obvious pass-rush and run stopping woes on New England's defense?
Given the overall weakness of this free-agent class, all the more reason to like the odds of Wilkerson and some other soon-to-be released players to be just fine on the open market.
More notes from NFL combine
- Still not getting the sense that any of the quarterback-needy teams believe the Bills would actually keep Tyrod Taylor next season at $16M. Skeptics abound. Bills coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane were both noncommittal about the situation in their remarks with the media Wednesday. Getting anything in trade will be tough considering it's seen as a fait accompli Taylor will be cut, but we'll see.
- Hearing that agents are trying to jumpstart the linebacker market with guys like Anthony Hitchens seeking deals around $10 million a year. There are plenty of bad teams with cap space to burn, so hitting double digits may not be out of the question at all, but not sure the final price tag gets that high.
- The only question about Rob Gronkowski has been and will be, how much money does he make on his next contract, because he is line for a new one. None of my reporting ever led me to believe that , but his days of playing on a contract he has far outperformed are, indeed, over. Pats know they'll have to step up.
- Continue to hear the Jags are far more likely to keep or add several lesser-paid receivers (retaining Marquise Lee, for starters) than they are to pony up big to keep Allen Robinson.
- Will be interested to see if Mike Glennon manages to top $5 million as a backup next season after with the Bears. His best bet might be heading back to Tampa, but could Ryan Fitzpatrick return there for less money? The amount of money the Bears wasted in free agency last season is pretty daunting and hasn't gone unnoticed in other front offices even if overlooked at Halas Hall.