NFL Draft Podcast – NFC Free Agency Primer and Draft Implications

In this week’s episode, Chris breaks down the key free agents for every NFC team and discusses how these crucial decisions will impact the draft strategy for each franchise. Dallas dominates the NFC East conversation with its trio of high-impact free agents, but New York, Washington and Philadelphia have a couple of notable players no longer under contract. Pretty much every team other than the Falcons has questions at quarterback in the NFC South. The Saints, Panthers and Buccaneers all could have new starters in 2020. Most of the NFC West teams have a few important players that could hit the open market. Chicago has very few notable free agents, but will likely be aggressive anyway. Green Bay, Minnesota and Detroit have several players they will be focused on bringing back. Catch up on all the major pending free agents ahead of the scouting combine! Listen to the latest episode now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.

2019 NFL Coaching Carousel

Black Monday came and went in the NFL, leaving eight head coaching vacancies throughout the league. Each team has a bit of a different approach to filling the opening and unique factors to consider, making this a fun exercise. This is who I think each team should hire as their head coach, not necessarily who they will hire. Let’s take a look at the best fits for each opening across the league.

Cincinnati Bengals (6-10)
Previous coach: Marvin Lewis
New hire: Vic Fangio

After 16 years, Marvin Lewis is finally out in Cincinnati. Lewis turned around the Bengals, but never managed to secure a playoff win. It is a result-driven business and the results have not been Lewis’ friend in recent years. This is a team that might be about to undergo a complete overhaul on offense. Rumors persist about the futures of both A.J. Green and Andy Dalton. There are plenty of holes on that side of the ball for the new head coach to fill. Let’s make something clear, Hue Jackson is not the answer to the offensive problems. It sounds like Cincy might go this route, which would be a massive mistake.

However, the defense has been even worse. Cincinnati allowed the most yards per game and the third most points per game. That’s where Vic Fangio comes in. Fangio has overseen the incredible transformation of the Chicago Bears defense. His defense allowed the third fewest yards per game and fewest points per game. At age 60, Fangio is far from a young option, but has 32 years of NFL coaching experience at different levels. Fangio deserves a shot to lead a team. For a team searching for an identity, the Bengals could find one with this defensive guru.

Denver Broncos (6-10)
Previous coach: Vance Joseph
New Hire: Kris Richard

John Elway made it very clear he wants a coach that is an expert on his side of the ball. The Denver Broncos should be very familiar with Kris Richard’s expertise when it comes to coaching defense. He coached the Legion of Boom in Seattle en route to a Super Bowl victory at Peyton Manning’s expense. That was the best statistical offense in NFL history and Richard stymied it.

Over the course of this season as the defensive backs coach in Dallas, he has helped develop Byron Jones into a true lockdown corner. He dealt with all kinds of personalities in that Seattle locker room and learned under Pete Carroll. Richard has a good resume for a first-time coach. The damage he could do with Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, and Chris Harris Jr. would be fun to watch. The team needs to figure out a long-term solution at quarterback, but finding a way to get this defense back on track is a huge step to pushing this team in the right direction.

Cleveland Browns (7-8-1)
Previous coach: Hue Jackson
New hire: Gregg Williams

It has been 15 years since Gregg Williams was a head coach in the NFL, leading the Bills during the early 2000s with no avail. His successes as the defensive coordinator in New Orleans, winning a Super Bowl in 2009, are a bit fresher in our minds. He was excellent in that role, save Bounty Gate. Now, he took over as the Browns coach midseason and led the team to a 5-3 record and much-improved overall play. There is no question Williams and offensive coordinator Perry Kitchens have been essential in that. Cleveland won more games under the duo in the second half of the season than it had in the previous three years combined.

For the sake of the development of Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett Nick Chubb and some of the other young prospects, it makes sense to keep some stability. No one is going to be better-suited to continue Mayfield’s development than Kitchens other than maybe Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, who signed a contract extension with the Sooners on Tuesday. Plus the level of turnaround this team saw was incredible. The three losses under Williams came against the Texans, Chiefs and Ravens, all playoff teams. Belief is this club could be a playoff team next year. Keeping this coaching staff in place would be a wise move.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)
Previous coach: Dirk Koetter
New hire: Eric Beinemy

The biggest task for whoever takes over for the Buccaneers is figuring out what to do at quarterback. Jameis Winston does not seem like a guaranteed long-term solution. The former first overall pick in the 2015 draft will be under contract for 2019, but is not guaranteed anything past that. That leaves the franchise in a very tough position with no other even potential long-term solution at quarterback on the roster.

There is no question that finding an offensive-minded coach to mentor Winston will be crucial. Enter Eric Bieniemy, the Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator. Every team will be looking for the next Sean McVay with their newest hire. Bieniemy might not be McVay, but he is a former NFL running back, so there is that understanding of what it is like to be a player in the league.

Concerns with Bieniemy start and end with his experience. This is his first season as offensive coordinator and he is not the one calling the plays. However, the league places a high value on Andy Reid assistants and Bieniemy was Kansas City’s running backs coach from 2013 to 2017. In that span, the Chiefs produced two different 1st-team All-Pro backs and several good role players, including Charcandrick West, Spencer Ware and Damien Williams. Tampa needs a coach to revitalize the franchise and maximize the talent already existing on the roster. I trust Bieniemy to do just that after helping Patrick Mahomes become the 3rd quarterback in NFL history to toss 50 touchdowns in a season. It is time to give him a chance.

Arizona Cardinals (3-13)
Previous coach: Steve Wilks
New hire: Jim Caldwell

Arizona made the perplexing decision to fire Steve Wilks after one season, meaning it is time for a second straight offseason coaching search. This time, the Cardinals would do well to bring in a veteran coach with plenty of experience developing and fostering quarterbacks. Jim Caldwell fits the bill. Caldwell led the Colts to a Super Bowl berth in 2009, and took the Lions to the playoffs twice in four seasons. If you scrub the year where he coached the Colts without Peyton Manning, Caldwell’s record is 60-36. Needless to say, he deserves another chance in the NFL.

With Josh Rosen in need of some real guidance, Caldwell worked with one of the greatest quarterbacks ever in Manning. He also helped Matt Stafford become a much more efficient passer in Detroit. Former Colts center Jeff Saturday described Caldwell as being more laid back as well, an approach that could work well for a team that has Larry Fitzgerald on the roster. Caldwell is good at fostering the culture the players create. Fitz does it better than anyone else. Don’t overthink this and bring in a coach with real experience to oversee this rebuild.

Miami Dolphins (7-9)
Previous coach: Adam Gase
New hire: Dave Toub

There are a number of reasons why Dave Toub may be the best option for Miami. For one, he comes from the Andy Reid coaching tree, which has produced Matt Nagy, Sean McDermott and Doug Pederson most recently. The last Reid special teams coordinator who landed a head coaching job was John Harbaugh, who through 11 seasons is 114-77 including a 10-5 playoff record and a Super Bowl ring. I’m not saying Toub is guaranteed to be Harbaugh, but don’t sneer at the idea of a special team’s coordinator taking the top job. He did a stellar job in 2018, as the Chiefs ranked 2nd in special teams DVOA.

The other reason Toub makes sense is because this roster needs a complete overhaul. He is not a specialist, but a good teacher. That is something the Dolphins desperately need. Outside of a handful of defensive pieces, Miami lacks talent. I actually think Adam Gase deserves a ton of credit for the success the offense did have this season. He had to get creative with a middling offensive line, no true No. 1 receiver, 36-year old Frank Gore as his top running back and the combination of Brock Osweiler and a banged up Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. The bigger decision here will be building the roster. Toub will be good at teaching everyone when they get some better young talent in the locker room. He has the experience teams want in a head coaching candidate.

New York Jets (4-12)
Previous coach: Todd Bowles
New hire: Jim Harbaugh

It’s time to bring some bravado back to Broadway. This is a really young team in New York in desperate need of discipline and leadership. Todd Bowles was a players coach through and through, but the Jets were one of the most penalized teams in the league during Bowles’ final two seasons. Harbaugh also has a pretty good track record at developing quarterbacks. He led the 49ers to the Super Bowl with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. Under Harbaugh, Kaepernick threw 50 touchdowns to just 21 interceptions and completed 60 percent of his passes. In college, he helped develop Andrew Luck.

Harbaugh would probably be interested in working with Sam Darnold. He is a former NFL quarterback with a great coaching record at 44-19-1 during four seasons with the 49ers. It will take a decent amount of effort to pull him away from Michigan, but the critics have been out in full force after Jim failed to beat Ohio State for the fifth straight year. (Fun fact: Michigan has beaten Ohio State just twice since 2000.) Harbaugh represents a good teacher, with previous NFL head coaching experience and the personality to thrive in the New York market. This is the closest thing the Jets are going to find to the offensive-minded version of Bill Parcells, the last time they had a great head coach. If Mike Macagnan is serious about doing things differently, this is the route to go.

Green Bay Packers (6-9-1)
Former coach: Mike McCarthy
New hire: Josh McDaniels

After what he did to the Colts last season, teams are likely wary of the Patriots offensive coordinator, but he fits well with this Packers team. He is bit more fiery than Mike McCarthy, which is something I think fans will relish. He does have some head coaching experience in Denver, which didn’t go too well, but you would have to think he learned from his mistakes. The Packers also have some good offensive weapons for McDaniels to work with in Aaron Jones, Davante Adams and a solid offensive line.

There is a bigger reason why McDaniels to the Packers rumors will persist. He would have the opportunity to work with possibly the only quarterback in the league comparable to the one he worked with in New England. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are in a league of their own in terms of talent and personality. It is no secret they both possess egos that sometimes makes headlines. McDaniels’ experience working with Brady makes him one of the best candidates to work with Rodgers. He might even be able to bring some Patriots assistants with him to help turnover the defense with some good young pieces, but in need of a better system. Overall, it is time for McDaniels to get another chance, and for him to actually take it this time.

No love for Lovie

I was sitting playing NBA 2K last night, when my phone buzzed. It was a notification from ESPN breaking the news about now former Buccaneers Head Coach Lovie Smith.

I immediately opened my phone and texted Matt Lupinno, whom many of you know from his contributions to this site. Matt has been a Bucs fan for as long as I have known him. He was dumbfounded when he heard about Smith being fired.

Lovie Smith
Smith posted an 81-63 record while he was the head man in Chicago.

I have to admit that I am in the same boat. Lovie Smith is one of the better coaches I’ve seen in the NFL over the last 10 years. He has a career record above .500, he lead Chicago to a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman under center and posted five winning seasons in his nine year tenure in the Windy City.

I was confused after his firing from Chicago. The Bears went 10-6 that season and narrowly missed the playoffs. I’m even more perplexed by his firing from Tampa Bay. Smith took over a struggling Tampa team two years ago and laid the ground work for Tampa to be a playoff contender next season. His record, 8-24, isn’t very impressive, but it there were definitely signs of improvement this season.

A big part of Tampa’s rise to fifth was Doug Martin, who finished second in the NFL in rushing.

The Bucs were the NFL’s worst team in 2014, winning just two games. The offense was pitiful, ranking 29th in scoring offense and 30th in yards per game. The defense wasn’t much better, ranking 25th in both scoring and yards allowed. 2015 saw Tampa take major strides as the team’s offensive scoring jumped to 20th, the offensive yards rank moved up to fifth and the defensive yards rank pushed to seventh.

The only reason I can think of for Lovie being fired was because the scoring defense actually got worse. The Bucs were 26th in the league in points allowed per game this season. Smith is supposed to be a defensive guru, so that type of stat really reflects poorly on him.

Yet, it still shouldn’t have been enough for the Tampa front office to pull the plug. The Bucs are clearly trending in the right direction. This was a rebuilding project down in western Florida.

The Buccaneers had a rookie quarterback, left tackle and right guard starting this year. They had a second year starting wide receiver, the explosive Mike Evans, and sophomore tight end as well. Their number three receiver was an undrafted rookie. That group produced the fifth most yards in the NFL this season. That is tremendous for such a young group with so much room to grow.

On defense, the Bucs had four guys who started at least 11 games for them, all 25 years old or younger. By the end of the season, either due to injuries or poor play from veterans, Tampa was starting seven players 25 or under. The scoring defense was woeful but finishing seventh in yards allowed has to count for something.

With so much youth and potential, it does not seem to make sense to fire the man at the forefront of this rebuilding project. The fact that this team relies so heavily on it’s youth too shows how well Smith has done at building the team through the draft. The Bucs brought in Lovie to rebuild their team. He laid the foundation to build on and then the cut him loose, just before the team had a chance to really shine.

Jameis_Winson and Mike_Evans
Winston (left) and Mike Evans (right) were the Bucs first round picks under Lovie Smith.

If anything, I think this move actually hurts Tampa Bay. You have a rookie quarterback in place who is definitely your future at the position in Jameis Winston. You let him play for a year in an offensive system, then get rid of his head coach and force him to restart in a different system. That seems counter productive to Winston’s growth.

The real question now is who will replace Smith. There are not many ways in which Tampa can really find an upgrade. The only hire I think that would make sense is Adam Gase. He is a young coach with a lot of potential himself. Many have pegged him as the premier head coaching candidate for the last three seasons. He would present the Bucs with a coach that would grow with the team. Otherwise, I fail to see who the front office could target that would have more upside than Smith.

As for Lovie, I hope he isn’t out of a job for long. I could see him taking over the Tennessee gig, getting to work with the other quarterback selected at the top of the 2015 NFL draft. Other potential fits for Smith could be New York, where the Giants need a defensive make over, or Cleveland, who is in desperate need of a proven coach to help turn around their situation.

Well I definitely gave Lovie some love in this post. Hopefully, someone else will give him some soon.


Tampa Bay making moves

Yesterday afternoon, news broke in Florida that the Buccaneers had cut veteran quarterback Josh McCown after only one season. McCown had an up and down year with only 11 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. He also suffered from an arm injury and lost his starting job to the much younger Mike Glennon. This seems like a pretty routine move for a team to make, cutting a veteran quarterback who struggled this past year. However, the Bucs also hold the number one overall pick so this might project as to what the Bucs are planning to do with that pick.

It might be a bit of stretch to say, but this seems like a vote of confidence in Glennon. Logically speaking, a team who was planning to draft a rookie quarterback would probably want to keep around the knowledgeable veteran who can act as a teacher for a year before the rookie takes over the following season. That would have been the perfect role for McCown tutoring either Florida State’s Jameis Winston or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. McCown’s contract would have expired at the end of next season leaving it for one of those two signal callers to take the reins. Glennon would represent the intriguing trade piece that the Bucs might be able to convert into a mid-round draft pick in either of the next two years.

Instead, it seems like Tampa is preparing to buy into the North Carolina State product Glennon. He has shown some promise in his first two seasons. He played 13 games his rookie year and completed almost 60 percent of his passes. He also tallied 19 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions. This year Glennon’s numbers dropped slightly but that can likely be attributed to a much worse supporting cast and sporadic playing time that never allowed him to find a rhythm. He still through 10 touchdowns in only 6 games and limited himself to as many interceptions as he played games. His total quarterback rating even jumped up to 55.9. That’s not anything special but that is a solid number for a young quarterback.

If the Bucs truly are buying into Glennon then there are a couple of things we could see happen in the weeks leading up to draft day. There are several teams looking to make a move up to select either Winston or Mariota. The most likely suitor could be St. Louis who is toying with the idea of releasing oft-injured Sam Bradford as he will account for $17 million for 2015 if he is on the roster. Cutting him would save St. Louis almost 13 million. If the Rams were willing to give up a veteran, starting lineman and their pick at number 10, I think we could see these two teams swap picks.

However, if the Bucs aren’t really sold on Glennon and are looking to bring in a veteran then I think they have two options here. The Eagles have made it known that they would love to land Mariota, whom Eagles coach Chip Kelly recruited to Oregon when he was running the program. Philadelphia might be able to send Nick Foles, who the team has been rumored to have been shopping, and a late round pick in exchange for the number one pick. The other team that could be in the mix is Kansas City. This team has a lot of problems on the offensive side of the ball but in a year where the free agent class of wide receivers is looking stronger than ever, the Chiefs may be able to turn their attention elsewhere. Alex Smith is a good, veteran quarterback but he has been more of a game manager throughout his career. If the Bucs want to build a team based on running the ball and efficient quarterback play, Smith could be their guy.

We also cannot rule out the Buccaneers simply looking at a position other than quarterback at number one. Nebraska’s Randy Gregory is a great linebacker who has made his name putting pressure on the quarterback. He could be a plug and play helping Tampa’s defense get after division rivals Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Drew Brees. Leonard Williams out of USC might also be a fit. He played mostly inside in college but has the skills to play anywhere along the defensive line. Either way he would be a huge asset to Tampa’s unit. Lovie Smith made Chicago a Super Bowl caliber team with a great defense and Rex Grossman at quarterback. Don’t be surprised if he follows the defense first formula again.