This week's "Six Points" hits Chip Kelly, other aspects of the coaching tree and much, much more.
Chip Kelly's next move could surprise
It seems that every year, we see a "surprise" firing in the NFL. Some of that is perception. Some of that is real.
About two weeks ago, word began to surface that indeed there would be a surprise firing this season. Chip Kelly was the likely candidate, but league sources felt there was a chance he could save his job when he sat down with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie at the end of the season. One source said that Lurie was not just frustrated with the team's performance but also "angry," which is a rare descriptive term associated with one of the NFL's most reputable owners.
Another source said that Lurie would have a lot of questions for Kelly when they met for a season review and that Kelly's attitude during that session could very well determine his fate.
As it turned out, Kelly had no chance of saving his job, and his season ended one game early when he was fired early Tuesday evening. There were many who were surprised, and not just by the firing but also its timing.
Lurie made clear what other sources said Tuesday night after the Eagles announced Kelly would be released. There was no option presented for Kelly to continue in his coaching job if he gave up control of the personnel department. Lurie wouldn't really have any more questions for Kelly. He had seen the performance, and in his news conference he talked about the "trajectory" of the team. Kelly's attitude also had been on display for Lurie, who sources say was frustrated with the coach's inability to build even cursory personal relationships, from the owner to the players.
In other words, as Lurie stated during his news conference Wednesday to explain his Tuesday decision, he already had made up his mind to fire Kelly. There was no real discussion or scenario presented in which Kelly could have saved his job. Kelly's lack of ability to develop interpersonal relationships with the owner, the players and others in the building did not help his cause, even though he is respected as a coach.
Now begins a search for a new coach and a new general manager, or it very well could be a director of player personnel who evolves into the GM. Howie Roseman, who was ingloriously pushed aside to formally give Kelly the control he desired a year ago, will remain as the vice president of football operations. But as of now, Roseman will not be the general manager again. Tom Donahoe has been promoted to head the personnel department, but he has no desire to serve as the GM at this stage of life.
As for Kelly, he has said he wants to remain in the NFL, but not everyone is confident that is the case. One source said that if the Navy job had opened, he just might have been intrigued. Don't laugh. He enjoyed his obscure years at New Hampshire and he operated in relative obscurity from a media standpoint at Oregon, at least compared with day-to-day life in Philly. He's not going to make money the factor that motivates him on his next journey, per sources. -- CM
The coaching carousel will keep turning
Some teams already have decided the futures of their head coaches. Over the coming week, even more will.
It's fair to say that outside of the Steelers and Patriots, there are few NFL teams these days that demonstrate the type of patience that seemed to be more prevalent back in the day.
Former Cowboys head coach Tom Landry, now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, finished with a losing record in each of his first five seasons as Dallas' coach. He compiled an 18-46-4 record during those years. In today's world, with today's NFL owners and sports climate, he would have been fired. Quickly. Yet Landry coached Dallas for 29 years, not winning the first of his two Super Bowl titles until his 12th season. Dallas exercised patience; Landry rewarded it.
Former Steelers head coach Chuck Noll, now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, finished with a losing record in each of his first three seasons as Pittsburgh's coach. He compiled a 12-30 record during those years. In another time, this one, Noll likely would have been notified of his dismissal during that period. Yet Noll went on to coach the Steelers for 23 years, winning the first of his four Super Bowl titles in his sixth season. The Steelers supported Noll; he rewarded them for their support.
Today's world is as different as the way in which news once was delivered. Owners prefer not to wait and have deep enough pockets to handle it. When the Titans fired Ken Whisenhunt earlier this season, they agreed to absorb the roughly $16 million remaining on his contract. It was not an easy thing to do, but it was not overly difficult to absorb, either. Still, there's a lesson in there that should serve as a warning to any head coach whose job is in jeopardy.
Football is so lucrative, the money NFL owners now make is so much, that even though owners would rather not eat millions on coaches' contracts, they can -- and have. If that is the route owners choose, all they then have to do is start a marketing campaign for the new head coach, and inevitably, hopes and revenues rise. It's that simple and that cyclical, all at the expense of coaches and their families.
So as the NFL prepares to wrap up its regular season, certain owners presiding over teams that have had poor seasons will be forced to make difficult decisions. Many will not be as patient as Dallas once was with Landry and Pittsburgh once was with Noll. These NFL owners will perpetuate the cycle of instability in which the league averages close to seven firings a year, the exact number that occurred last year and the season before and the season before. Count on at least seven head-coaching changes this year, and there could be up to 10.
Patience no longer is a primary consideration. Tapping the next man up is. -- AS
Scrutiny on QBs in draft will be intense
As expected, Cal quarterback Jared Goff will soon announce he will forgo his senior season to enter the 2016 NFL draft. Memphis junior QB Paxton Lynch is doing the same, and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg likely won't be far behind.
Michigan State's Connor Cook is a senior, as is North Dakota State's Carson Wentz, who has his fans among NFL scouts. All have been mentioned as possible first-round draft picks. There are others.
Just one word of caution: Beware.
Lynch had a meteoric rise during a strong junior season for Memphis that did not end well in a bowl loss to Auburn. The bowl performance probably won't significantly hurt his draft stock. Upon first glance, he has high draft grades. But the draft is not until the end of April and many veteran NFL personnel men caution that background checks still must be conducted on all players, especially quarterbacks. Ryan Leaf was a first-rounder, and his bust raised the scrutiny for quarterbacks regarding their psychological and behavioral profile. Same with Ryan Mallett, who had first-round talent but dropped to the third round. Johnny Manziel's personal life was an open book at Texas A&M and, if anything, he has added a few chapters that have reminded scouts to dig deep. And then dig deeper.
So if you hear about certain teams being in love with specific quarterbacks, just remember that there is still work to be done. Leaf made sure of that.
That's not a knock on Lynch's agent, Leigh Steinberg, who is resurrecting his representation career that once dominated the quarterback market. Steinberg repped some great NFL stars, including Troy Aikman and Steve Young, to name a few. He also represented Leaf.
NFL teams will determine which category fits Lynch. -- CM
The backup in Denver
That Peyton Manning appears physically ready to back up Brock Osweiler for Week 17 against the Chargers is only a plus for the Denver Broncos. Osweiler's strong performance in the second half against the Bengals cemented his status as the starter.
It puts to bed the story or notion that Manning didn't want to be Osweiler's backup and, therefore, an assumption that he was slow-playing his recovery from a ruptured plantar fascia.
Think about it: When have you ever known any premier quarterback to covet a backup quarterback's role? Yet Manning always has said he will do anything to help the team win.
He may just have to. Remember in 2001 when Tom Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe, the Patriots' former top draft pick who had become a beloved favorite of owner Robert Kraft? A serious injury to Bledsoe after a hit by Jets linebacker Mo Lewis opened the door for Brady, who had impressed Bill Belichick in practice.
Brady assumed the reins, the Patriots turned around a season that had begun slowly and New England's defense was among the league's best, limiting the burden placed upon Brady.
What tends to be forgotten is that Brady injured an ankle during the second quarter of the AFC title game against the Steelers at Heinz Field, and Bledsoe was summoned off the bench. Everyone in the Patriots building knew that Bledsoe was not a happy camper when Belichick did not give him back his job once he was healthy. But Bledsoe went out and led the Patriots to a 24-17 win over the Steelers and sent Belichick to his first Super Bowl as a head coach.
In fact, Bledsoe played well enough that the question was raised as to whether he should start the Super Bowl against the St. Louis Rams. Bledsoe's tears flowed freely after the victory over the Steelers.
Nevertheless, Belichick decided Brady would indeed start in the Super Bowl after a short stretch of mystery. Bledsoe wasn't thrilled about it. But he had done his job and Brady did his when he delivered on the drive that resulted in Adam Vinatieri's 48-yard field goal for a 20-17 upset over the heavily favored Rams. That was the first of six Super Bowl trips for Belichick and Brady.
Nobody is saying the same will happen with Manning and Osweiler, but having Manning available (presumably) as a backup does make Denver a more viable Super Bowl contender than having Manning in street clothes. -- CM
Longest playoff droughts extended again
Certain teams are preparing for the postseason, but the usual teams are not.
The three teams with the longest active NFL playoff droughts -- Buffalo, Oakland and Cleveland -- will not take part in the playoffs this season. Again.
The Bills have the longest active postseason drought, having now gone 16 straight seasons without a playoff appearance, their last one coming in 1999.
The Raiders and Browns are tied for the second-longest drought, each team now going 13 seasons without a playoff appearance, their last one coming in 2002.
Of the three, the Raiders appear closest to reaching the postseason. They play in a division that lacks Tom Brady as well as perennial powerhouses Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
Peyton Manning could be in the final days of his final NFL season, leaving the AFC West up for grabs next year. And Oakland has assembled offensive playmakers who could do enough damage to snap the Raiders' playoff drought.
Other drought-stricken teams do not appear as well-positioned. It's hard to imagine Cleveland snapping the streak next season with the unrest that seems certain to sweep over that franchise again. Buffalo is the league's most penalized team and lacks discipline in much the same way it lacks postseason berths.
So while much in the NFL changes from season to season, other things do not -- unfortunately for Buffalo, Oakland and Cleveland. -- AS
AFC's playoff quarterbacks lack credentials -- except for Brady
It's a given, almost without fail, that every year the best quarterbacks lead the best teams to the playoffs.
Yet this is a season that might challenge the usual. When the postseason begins, it's possible that most of the potential starting quarterbacks in the AFC will be players who have been questioned, overlooked, bypassed and, in some cases, ignored.
Five of the six AFC potential postseason starting quarterbacks could well be Denver's Brock Osweiler, Cincinnati's AJ McCarron, Houston's Brandon Weeden, Kansas City's Alex Smith and the New York Jets' Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Of the five, only Smith entered training camp as the projected starter for his team.
It is a credit to these players and those teams that they have come as far as they have, to either be in the postseason or be on the verge of making the playoffs. Osweiler has been steady, McCarron has done his job, Weeden has been a pleasant surprise, Smith has shined and Fitzpatrick has become as important to the Jets as Carson Palmer became to the Cardinals.
This list of potential AFC postseason quarterbacks also distinguishes New England quarterback Tom Brady as the best in the conference and a favorite to lead his team to the Super Bowl. It will be challenging for any of those five other starting quarterbacks -- or even Peyton Manning or Andy Dalton if they are healthy enough to return to their lineups -- to go into Gillette Stadium and beat Brady and the Patriots.
In other postseasons, Brady has had to defeat the likes of Oakland's Rich Gannon, St. Louis' Kurt Warner, Tennessee's Steve McNair, Indianapolis' Manning, San Diego's Philip Rivers, Baltimore's Joe Flacco and Indianapolis' Andrew Luck. But this season, no AFC postseason teams are expected to be led by a quarterback with anywhere near the credentials Brady has.
It shines a light on the oddity of this season, and it also highlights how New England enters the postseason as the AFC team to beat. -- AS