Topics this week include Le'Veon Bell's future with the Pittsburgh Steelers, a look back at some of the biggest deals made for head coaches, others on the hot seat, a rising star in Kansas City and more.
Ring the Bell for bigger money
In no particular order, the three best running backs in the game today are Le'Veon Bell, David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott. But Bell is the only one on an expiring contract. His deal must be addressed after this season, setting up a storyline as intriguing at running back as Kirk Cousins' is at quarterback.
Here's what Pittsburgh's game plan likely will be, according to sources around the league: The Steelers are expected to use the $12.377 million franchise tag on Bell, restricting his ability to go to another team, while trying to hammer out a long-term extension in the offseason. This would provide the Steelers with the protection they would need for a player who is as good as any in the game, but who has been suspended twice and is one strike away from a 10-game suspension.
When a deal eventually is worked out, as it likely will be, it would make Bell among the highest-paid running backs -- a distinction that currently belongs to Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, who signed a six-year, $85.28 million contract in September 2011.
There have been and will be no contract discussions until the offseason, as the Steelers' long-standing policy is to not do in-season extensions. Until then, Bell will continue piling up numbers that will impact how much he receives.
Bell has 1,616 yards from scrimmage, the second most in a player's first 10 games of a season (Jim Brown had 1,704 for the Cleveland Browns in his first 10 games in 1963). Bell is coming off a game in which he became only the second player in NFL history to have at least 225 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns and at least 50 receiving yards in the same game, joining Brown again (November 1961).
The numbers Bell produces now will be directly proportionate to the ones he sees in contract negotiations. But it is hard to imagine the two sides won't figure out a way to get it done. For starters, Bell's agent, Adisa Bakari, and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin have developed a close relationship. The two men will want to do right by each other. Plus, the only NFL contract Bell has signed was a four-year, $4.12 million deal in 2013 -- and he lost about $230,000 in base salary for the five games he has been suspended for the past two seasons, not to mention some of the signing bonus money he has had to pay back.
Bell has yet to make the big money in the NFL, but he is about to.
-- Adam Schefter
Reach for the stars? Not hard to do in Hollywood
Almost all names will be fair game, especially in Hollywood, where an owner with deep pockets is searching for a new leading man.
"Glamour jobs in the NFL are like glamour jobs in college," said Ernie Accorsi, the retired New York Giants general manager. "If you are searching for that guy, you probably wouldn't sleep at night if you at least didn't try."
History shows that owners occasionally will reach for the stars.
Accorsi was the Baltimore Colts' public relations director in 1970, when Miami Dolphins owner Joe Robbie signed Colts head coach Don Shula to an historic deal. Then-NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle awarded Baltimore a first-round draft pick when he determined Robbie was guilty of tampering.
Turns out, it was a small price to pay for success. Shula coached the Dolphins to the NFL's only perfect season in 1972 and won the Super Bowl again the next season.
Bill Parcells bolted New England for the New York Jets in 1997, after guiding the Patriots to a Super Bowl appearance. Ultimately, then-NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue brokered a deal that allowed Parcells to coach the Jets, but the Patriots received third- and fourth-round draft picks in 1997, a second-round pick in 1998 and a first-rounder in 1999.
Mike Holmgren went from the Green Bay Packers to the Seattle Seahawks in 1999 for a second-round draft pick, but it's almost parenthetical when one considers the next two blockbuster deals involving coaches switching teams.
In 2000, when Parcells stepped down from the Jets, defensive coordinator Bill Belichick was contractually promoted to be the head coach. That lasted 24 hours, when Belichick hastily resigned from that arrangement to make a disputed move to the Patriots.
It got ugly, but Tagliabue also brokered a deal that opened the door for Belichick to become the Patriots coach. The Jets received New England's first-round draft pick in 2000 and their fourth- and seventh-rounders in 2001. The Patriots got a fifth-rounder in 2001 and a seventh-rounder in 2002.
"I think it's worked out pretty well for the Patriots," said a purposefully understated Accorsi.
The late Raiders owner, Al Davis, extracted first-round picks from the Bucs in 2002 and 2003, second-round picks in 2002 and 2004 and a reported $8 million in cash. Gruden got the frustrated Bucs over the hump by leading them to their first Super Bowl title that very first season -- over the Raiders.
"Steep price, but they got their Lombardi trophy and Gruden did it with Brad Johnson at quarterback," Accorsi said.
There has been only one other head-coach transaction since the Gruden blockbuster.
Herm Edwards went from the Jets to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2006 for a fourth-round draft pick (which Edwards occasionally uses as a punch line). Could it happen again?
Pete Carroll signed an extension earlier this year as coach of the Seahawks, but he already has had to answer a question about the Rams job after Fisher was fired. Carroll was succinct about his ambition.
"No," he said about potential Rams interest.
Along with Carroll, other NFL head coaches under contract could be asked the same question by the media during the next month, and they will likely have the same response as Carroll.
The Saints' Sean Payton? The Steelers' Tomlin? The Packers' Mike McCarthy? The Ravens' John Harbaugh? Along with Belichick and Carroll, all are Super Bowl-winning head coaches.
Oh, Andy Reid of the Chiefs? He's an L.A. guy.
The Rams, however, paid a big cost to acquire the No. 1 pick in this year's draft to select quarterback Jared Goff. They still owe the Tennessee Titans their first- and third-round choices in 2017. The franchise arguably cannot afford to bankrupt its future with more draft picks to land its next coach.
Do the Rams instead go after a Super Bowl-winning executive like Denver Broncos general manager John Elway, and let him figure it out?
Nobody doubts Kroenke wants to make a splash hire. That's how a name like Jim Harbaugh gets floated as a matter of measured logical speculation. In turn, he already has shot down the notion he would leave his alma mater, Michigan, after just two years of coaching the Wolverines. That type of college coach would not cost a franchise future draft picks, but the search can have its perils.
"With the college head coaches, you have to be very careful because of the negative impact it can have on recruiting and with boosters," Accorsi said. "With NFL head coaches, you can't tamper and you are obligated and wise to observe the Rooney Rule [for interviewing minority candidates]. Otherwise, you're cheating yourself."
-- Chris Mortensen
The next-hottest seat?
Rex Ryan has been on the hot seat and will remain on the hot seat until, eventually, the Buffalo Bills dislodge him from it.
Over the course of the season -- from when it kicked off and including when offensive coordinator Greg Roman was fired after Week 2 -- the bull's-eye has been on Ryan, and it won't leave him until he leaves Buffalo.
The widespread belief in league circles is that the Bills will make a head-coaching change after the regular season ends, if not shortly before then. If it does happen, Buffalo would be moving on to its sixth head coach -- sixth! -- since 2009. It didn't work out for Dick Jauron, Perry Fewell, Chan Gailey, Doug Marrone or Ryan.
While Ryan's job is in trouble, Bills sources say general manager Doug Whaley is safe, which means he will have a hand in hiring his third head coach. It also means the end of this season is shaping up as a fitting end to Ryan's time in Buffalo. Should he survive until the last game of the regular season, Ryan's coaching career in Buffalo, and quite possibly in the NFL, could end at MetLife Stadium, against the New York Jets team he used to coach, on New Year's Day.
-- Adam Schefter
The offensive difference in Kansas City
Over the summer, before the season kicked off, Chiefs offensive coordinator Brad Childress said rookie wide receiver and return man Tyreek Hill was the most dynamic and electric player he ever coached.
Now the rest of the league has seen what Childress saw back in training camp. Hill is the fastest man in the NFL.
Hill owns the college record for the fastest indoor 200 meters, running a 20.57 seconds while at Oklahoma State. He owns the college record for the fastest outdoor 200, running a 20.73 seconds while at Garden City Community College. He owns the college record for the fastest outdoor 100, running a 9.98 seconds at Garden City.
Now, that speed has been on display in the NFL, leading the Chiefs to the top of the AFC West as they get ready to host the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Hill leads the Chiefs with nine touchdowns. He now is bidding to become the only rookie wide receiver drafted in the fifth round or later in the past 25 years to lead a playoff team in touchdowns, per the Elias Sports Bureau.
There is a lot more of the dynamic and electric rookie to see.
-- Adam Schefter
Emptying the notebook
Former Giants head coach Jim Fassel believes his son, John, will make things enjoyable for the Rams during his interim gig as the team's head coach.
"He'll work like crazy, but he'll make it fun," the elder Fassel said. "I remember getting permission [from Fisher] to sit in on one of John's special-teams meetings the night before a game. John finished his review with about 15 minutes to spare. Then I watched him divide the room to play a quick game of Jeopardy before he finished with a magic trick. Next thing I knew, him and Tavon Austin were rolling around the floor in a [playful] wrestling match. The whole room busted up."
Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Mike Smith has elevated his name back into the head-coaching candidate pool as the Bucs have allowed just 12.3 points per game since Week 10. Quarterback Jameis Winston said after a 16-11 win over the Saints, "Thank God for that defense." Smith was 66-46 as the Atlanta Falcons' head coach, with four playoff appearances from 2008-2014.
Former Colts general manager Bill Polian's name has been connected to jobs in Chicago and elsewhere recently. Polian laughed at that this week and said, "There is no job and I've spoken to no one on any team about anything." There is nothing close or in the works.
Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson, who ruptured his left Achilles tendon on Thursday night -- two years after tearing his right Achilles -- intends to continue playing next season, per a source close to the situation. As the source said of the 34-year-old linebacker: "I wouldn't bet against him ever. Everyone did two years ago and I would expect to see him back out there again. He's not even thinking about [retiring]. All he's thinking about is getting back out there."
Johnson has played the past few weeks with a sore left Achilles that affected him in practice and games. But Thursday night it gave out in an emotional scene at Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium. Johnson has come to mean as much to the Chiefs as linebacker Thomas Davis has come to mean to the Panthers.
Interestingly enough, Davis was the 14th overall pick in the 2005 draft and Johnson went to Kansas City with the very next pick. Davis has battled back from three torn ACLs to be an emotional leader and defensive force for the Panthers. Johnson already has battled back from one torn Achilles and now plans to come back from another.
An NFL team executive marveled again after watching the Patriots beat the Ravens on Monday night: "Belichick and [Tom] Brady just discourage you. The Patriots outthink you, outexecute you, and what a lot of people fail to recognize, they often outmuscle you. If you don't disrupt Brady, you've got almost no chance."
What a year for Patriots special-teams standout Nate Ebner. First he competed for the U.S. rugby team in the Olympics in Rio, now he leads the NFL in special-teams tackles. He is vying to become the rare athlete to participate in the Olympics and the Pro Bowl in the same season.
As we head into Week 15, playoff spots are on the line ... but so is draft position. With three games to go, here is how the order of the top 10 draft picks stack up today:
-- Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen