A busy Monday in the NFL, with the first coaching change of 2022 in the books…
• Maybe the best lesson to take from Matt Rhule’s 38-game run as Panthers coach—you don’t get forever to figure out your quarterback situation. And, eventually, if you’re unstable at the most important position on the field, it’s going to cost you out there, and probably with the guy cutting the checks, too.
Be it Teddy Bridgewater (15 starts) or Sam Darnold (11 starts), Baker Mayfield (five starts) or PJ Walker (two starts) or Cam Newton (five starts), Rhule never settled on a quarterback.
Instead, he and the Panthers tried to build the rest of the roster up first, and wait for the right one to come along. They offered first- and fifth-round picks, plus Bridgewater, to the Lions for Matthew Stafford in 2021. They really liked Justin Fields in 2021, but passed on him with the No. 8 pick to take Jaycee Horn, having already rolled the dice on Darnold. Then, twice, they made a run at Deshaun Watson, but passed on doing a reworked, fully guaranteed deal for him, before balking at a mediocre draft class at the position.
The result was that the rest of the roster got built up, the defense got really good under Phil Snow (Carolina was second in total defense), but the whole operation wound up being undermined by the team’s overly patient approach to fill the quarterback position.
They also used up a lot of resources in order to kick the can down the road. Combining the capital spent on Bridgewater, Darnold, Mayfield and 2022 draftee Matt Corral, the Panthers sunk a sixth-rounder in ’21, a second and two fourths in ’22, a third in ’23, a conditional fourth/fifth in ’24 , and about $61 million in cash into the position. And that’s without counting the $6 million Newton made last year, or the roughly $2.5 million Walker has earned from the team the last three years (which takes the cash total over $70 million).
And that’s the problem with all these half-measures—if they don’t work out, eventually they add up, and you might find you’d have been better off splurging in the first place. Of course, their inability to land vets like Stafford and Watson wasn’t all Rhule’s fault. But he didn’t pull the trigger when they had the chance to on Fields, or even in trading up for Justin Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa the year before, and now there’s no telling how different things might’ve been had they taken such a swing .
The good news for the franchise, though, is a result of all that building will leave the next coach with a solid foundation to drop someone like CJ Stroud or Bryce Young into.
• The interesting thing about the quarterback discussion is that it actually applies to a number of college coaches who failed at the position in largely the same way Rhule did. Nick Saban shuffled through Gus Frerotte, Daunte Culpepper and Joey Harrington, while missing on Drew Brees, in Miami. Chip Kelly had Mike Vick, Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford in Philly. Greg Schiano had Josh Freeman and Mike Glennon in Tampa.
And that’s not to say any of these guys would have killed it with better quarterbacking. But it’d have given them a better chance. I also think it’s fair to wonder if the lack of urgency to get the position right is because each successfully churned it in college jobs (where you have to do that to have sustained success).
Anyway, here’s a look at the record of college coaches hired into the NFL since 2000:
Urban Meyer, Jaguars 2–11
Matt Rhule, Panthers 11–27
Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals 26–27–1
Bill O’Brien, Texans 52–48
Chip Kelly, Eagles 26–21, 49ers 2–14
Doug Marrone, Bills 15–17, Jaguars 23–43
Greg Schiano, Buccaneers 11–21
Jim Harbaugh, 49ers 44–19–1
Pete Carroll, Seahawks 121–76–1
Lane Kiffin, Raiders 5–15
Bobby Petrino, Falcons 3–10
Nick Saban, Dolphins 15–17
Steve Spurrier, Washington 12–20
Butch Davis, Browns 24–35
Not a wildly successful group, of course. But of the group of 14, I’d call two big successes (Harbaugh, Carroll), and four more moderate successes (O’Brien, Kingsbury, Kelly, Marrone). And while that’s not a great rate … is it that much worse than the track record that NFL assistants have? It’s really not.
• Final thing on the Panthers—the calls have already come in from other teams inquiring about their veteran players. Two in particular, I’m told, have the attention of opposing GMs. One is pass rusher Brian Burns, who is among the NFL’s very best defensive players, is still just 24 years old and is in a contract year. The other is receiver DJ Moore, who has an affordable contract with a prorated $20.735 million salary for the rest of this year, and $52.265 million due from 2023-25, and years of experience as a No. 1 receiver.
Carolina, for its part, has not shown a willingness to deal either. But those are the two commanding the most interest.
• The Buccaneers‘ injury management of Julio Jones—GM Jason Licht said Sunday that the team is “playing the long game here” with the decorated-but-aging star receiver—most certainly isn’t unforeseen. Jones has needed to be managed through the season for years, and in the twilight of his time as a Falcon that meant practicing sparingly during the season, something that eventually wore on the Titans last year.
Tampa, conversely, is pretty adept at this point in handling such situations with veteran players. The goal, as Licht alluded to, is to get Jones to the finish line. And you don’t do that with a player carrying Jones’s aging and injury history by pushing him in October.
• Browns QB Deshaun Watson was back in the building on Monday, and my understanding is he was pretty much a fly on the wall on Day 1 back at work. The offensive staff had its normal game review with the players, and the focus was, of course, from a quarterback standpoint, on Jacoby Brissett (something Watson’s been understanding of). The impression those there had was Watson has stayed on top of everything, and the goal for now is just to get him up to speed with everything that’s happened the last five weeks.
The biggest transition will come when Watson returns to the practice field in mid-November, when the coaches will be able to acclimate him to calling plays and working in and out of the huddle. For now, the focus is just on getting and keeping Watson where he needs to be on the mental side of the game.
• Cleveland also made a trade on Sunday, sending a 2024 sixth-round pick to Atlanta for LB Deion Jones and a 2024 seventh-round pick. The Falcons were willing to part with Jones because his fit in Dean Pees’s scheme wasn’t ideal, and he had a slew of injury problems (he’s actually still on IR).
But the fresh start in Cleveland stands to help him. With Anthony Walker’s injury, there’s a job waiting for him, and he played in a Seattle-styled scheme similar to the one Browns DC Joe Woods ran earlier in his career under ex-Falcons coach Dan Quinn. If he can stay healthy, Jones brings a veteran presence, strong speed and good instincts to a defensive unit that’s been very up-and-down through five weeks.
• Certainly, after the way the last few years went, there were fair questions to ask on Stephon Gilmore’s NFL future—injuries sent an otherwise-stellar run in New England sideways for him, and kept him from really getting off the ground in Baltimore. And the Colts looked at that, and his physical skill set (long, athletic, etc.), and figured with better luck, he could be reborn in Gus Bradley’s defense, which asks a little less of corners.
So far, so good, and the cool thing is Gilmore has brought more than just the sort of plays he made against the Broncos on Thursday night (with a crucial PBU and game-sealing pick). He also has added a sort of attitude and edge to the defense in the big moments.
“No doubt,” Frank Reich said. “I mean, since he’s been here, you can tell he has a different presence about him—a real confidence—and the way he sees the game? Yes. And then I just think he’s been great, he’s more of a quiet personality, but his presence is really strong, so you could feel that. You could tell as we were going in training camp that he’s gonna make a lot of plays. I mean, he’s such a good cover guy.”
• Don’t look now, but the Jets might have hit a home run with their rookie class. Breece Hall is averaging 4.9 yards per carry with 275 rushing yards through five games. Garrett Wilson leads the team with 43 catches, good for 282 yards and two scores. Sauce Gardner has a team-leading six pass breakups and scored his first pick Sunday. So for what was clearly a crucial draft for the Jets, with the fruits of the Jamal Adams and Sam Darnold trades baked in, it looks like it yielded what could wind up being a foundational class for the team.
“The rookie class has done really, really well,” coach Robert Saleh told me on his ride home Sunday night. “And I know he didn’t finish the game, but Jermaine Johnson has quietly been having a really nice year. Max Mitchell had been coming along really well. Michael Clemons is playing really well, so a lot of guys are playing at a pretty high level for rookies. Now, obviously, they’ve got a long way to go, in terms of just being consistent for four quarters and game-to-game. But you could see where as the game develops and they see more and more, they can download the information in real-time.
“They get faster and faster, and they show off their explosiveness. It’s encouraging that as games go, they get more explosive, because it tells me that they’re downloading the information and they’re recognizing what they’re seeing during the play. And because of it, they can just play for free. But at the same time, the trick is, can we get that from the first quarter on? And that’s gonna come with reps.”
Last week, we detailed the progress of Zach Wilson (“He’s only ascending and he’s only gonna get better, we’re really excited about the direction he’s going,” said Saleh) in this space. Add the rookies’ development to that, and the arrow’s pointing up in Florham Park.
• I thought it’d be interesting to get Patriots RB Rhamondre Stevenson’s take on his offensive coaches after Stevenson’s big game Sunday and fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe’s first start. So here’s what Stevenson had to say on Matt Patricia.
“First of all, it’s a very tough job,” Stevenson said. “Offensive coordinator in the NFL, that’s a very tough job—just outside looking in. And just being in here, seeing how hard he’s working, everybody else on the coaching staff too, they’re just working hard, just trying to figure out what we do well, trying to put us in the best position. And yeah, I got all the respect to those offensive coaches.”
I think there’s a key line in there—trying to figure out what we do well. It feels like, in drilling down on more downhill, gap-scheme runs, and play-action off those, the Patriots have found something they’re pretty good at, which makes sense with the massive line and physical backs they have on their roster . And having that to hang their hat on should help Patricia achieve the stated goal Bill Belichick set out for his offensive staff in the offseason, to streamline and simplify the scheme.
• I’m still blown away that the Lions went for it on fourth down six times on sunday. Detroit’s Sunday o-fer in that department set a league record for fourth-down failure, but I’m not sure that’ll cause Dan Campbell to get gun-shy now. Last year, the Lions set records for fourth-down attempts (41) and conversions (21). They’re up to 18 and 8 in those categories already this year, pacing them to break both records.
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