West Notes: Raiders, Hawks, 49ers, Ziggy

Although the Raiders failed to lure ex-Packers executive Eliot Wolf to Oakland (Wolf ultimately accepted a new role with the Browns), they’re still aiming to hire a “young” assistant general manager and may also add an executive vice president of football operations, according to Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com. Wolf would have seemingly been the ideal candidate for Oakland given his ties to general manager Reggie McKenzie, who is also a former Green Bay staffer. There’s no word as to whether the Raiders ever pursued yet another former Packers executive in Alonzo Highsmith, who — like Wolf — ultimately landed in Cleveland. No matter who Oakland hires, McKenzie is expected to share roster control with new head coach Jon Gruden.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two West divisions:

  • Prior to the Seahawks hiring Ken Norton Jr. as their new defensive coordinator, they also interviewed incumbent defensive line coach Clint Hurtt for the position, tweets Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. Although Hurtt was passed over for the job, he will stay on Seattle’s staff going forward, per Rapoport. Hurtt, who was the Bears’ outside linebackers coach from 2015-16, was hired by Seattle last January after an odd dance in which it seemed he’d land with the Jets. Hurtt’s decision to remain with the Seahawks shouldn’t obfuscate the fact that Seattle has revamped its defensive staff this month by firing both former DC Kris Richard and assistant head coach/linebackers Micahel Barrow.
  • The concept of pending free agent Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah signing with the 49ers is being discussed in NFL circles, reports Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee. As Barrows notes, this is an “all smoke, no fire” situation, as there have been no reports officially linking Ansah to the Bay Area. However, Ansah — who rebounded with 12 sacks in 2017 after a two-sack 2016 — could theoretically thrive in San Francisco’s 4-3 scheme as opposed to what will be a Matt Patricia-led defense in Detroit, so this is something to file away for later.
  • While Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch certainly hasn’t been successful through two NFL seasons, he’s also had to deal with two head coaches, three offensive coordinators, and three different offensive schemes, as Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post opines. Lynch, the Broncos’ first-round pick in 2016, has only four games in two years with Denver, and lost the starting quarterback job to former seventh-rounder Trevor Siemian in both campaigns.

2018 NFL Draft Order

With the 2017 NFL regular season now in the books, the majority of the 2018 draft order is in place. The final four slots will be determined by the results of the remainder of the postseason, but picks No. 1 through No. 28 are locked in. Here is the full list:

1. Cleveland Browns (0-16)

2. New York Giants (3-13)

3. Indianapolis Colts (4-12)

4. Cleveland Browns (via the 4-12 Houston Texans)

5. Denver Broncos (5-11)

6. New York Jets (5-11)

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-11)

8. Chicago Bears (5-11)

T-9. Oakland Raiders (6-10)

T-9. San Francisco 49ers (6-10) (Note: The Raiders and 49ers have identical records and the same strength of schedule. The tie will be broken by a coin flip with the winner getting pick No. 9 and the other club receiving the No. 10 pick.)

11. Miami Dolphins (6-10)

12. Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)

13. Washington Redskins (7-9)

14. Green Bay Packers (7-9)

15. Arizona Cardinals (8-8)

16. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)

17. Los Angeles Chargers (9-7)

18. Seattle Seahawks (9-7)

19. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)

20. Detroit Lions (9-7)

21. Buffalo Bills (9-7)

22. Buffalo Bills (via the 10-6 Kansas City Chiefs)

23. Los Angeles Rams (11-5)

24. Carolina Panthers (11-5)

25. Tennessee Titans (9-7)

26. Atlanta Falcons (10-6)

27. New Orleans Saints (11-5)

28. Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

NFC North Notes: Vikings, Packers, Bears

Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo left Sunday’s Divisional Round game after taking a hit to the head, and while he remains in the concussion protocol, he was able to perform limited individual work during Wednesday’s practice, tweets Lindsay Jones of USA Today. While there’s no definitive word on Sendejo’s status, the mere fact that he was able to participate in practice should be a positive sign as Minnesota prepares to face Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game. If Sendejo can’t go, fellow defensive back Jayron Kearse — who played 60% of the Vikings’ defensive snaps following Sendejo’s injury — would see more action.

Let’s take a quick spin around the NFC North:

  • Colts defensive line coach Gary Emanuel has interviewed for the same position with the Packers, according to Alex Marvez of the Sporting News (Twitter link). Emanuel is currently in limbo given that Indianapolis is expected to hire head coach Josh McDaniels and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, so he’s taking meetings in the interim. After spending six seasons with the Colts, Emanuel would replace Mike Trgovac as Green Bay’s defensive line coach. Trgovac was fired earlier this month as part of a Packers house-cleaning that also included the termination of defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
  • The Bears are expected to hire Shane Toub as an offensive quality control coach, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune writes. Toub, the son of Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub, had been working as a graduate assistant at the University of Illinois. Additionally, Chicago has also decided to retain linebackers coach Glenn Pires and assistant defensive backs coach Roy Anderson, sources tell Marvez (Twitter link).
  • In case you missed it, the Bears may have interest in adding former Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to their offensive staff. Bevell isn’t the only ex-play-caller in contention for a role with Chicago, as former Raiders OC Todd Downing is also interviewing with the club.

NFL Workout Updates: 1/17/18

Today’s workout updates, with all links going to veteran NFL reporter Howard Balzer’s Twitter account:

Carolina Panthers

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Indianapolis Colts

New Orleans Saints

Philadelphia Eagles

Coaching Rumors: Titans, Cowboys, Texans

Weather-related concerns are forcing the Titans to shift the timeline of their head coaching search, as Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com tweets. Whereas Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel and Rams offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur were originally scheduled to interview with Tennessee on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, Vrabel and LaFleur will now sit down with Titans general manager Jon Robinson on Thursday and Friday, respectively. Vrabel, LaFleur, and Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks — whose is currently en route to Tennessee for his interivew, per Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer — are the only definitive candidates for the Tennessee job thus far, but reports have indicated the Titans could also have interest in Eagles OC Frank Reich.

Here’s more from the 2018 hiring cycle:

  • Former NFL defensive coordinators John Pagano and Ray Horton will meet with the Cowboys, per Todd Archer of ESPN.com. Pagano, the longtime Chargers’ DC, spent last season as an assistant head coach (and later, interim DC) for the Raiders, while Horton — formerly the defensive play-caller for the Cardinals, Titans, and Browns, didn’t work in the NFL in 2017. Dallas already has a defensive coordinator in Rod Marinelli, but the Cowboys were reportedly willing to promote Marinelli to assistant head coach in order to keep ex-LBs coach Matt Eberflus.
  • While the Cowboys are apparently considering additions to their defensive coaching staff, they’ve made a hire on the offensive side of the ball in new wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal, tweets David Moore of the Dallas Morning News. Lal, 48, originally joined the NFL ranks with the Raiders in 2007, and has since coached wideouts for Oakland, New York, and Buffalo. Former Cowboys wide receiver/current Cowboys scout Miles Austin also reportedly interviewed for the position.
  • The Texans have hired former Raiders special teams coach Brad Seely for the same position, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Seely was forced out in Oakland earlier this month when the Raiders hired Rich Bisaccia as their new assistant head coach/special teams. He’ll replace Larry Izzo, the former NFL linebacker who led Houston to a No. 31 ranking in special teams DVOA a season ago. Seely, 61, has been an NFL ST coach since 1989, and the Texans will be his eighth professional stop. He should have a working relationship with Houston head coach Bill O’Brien, as the pair spent time together with the Patriots from 2007-08.

Top 3 Offseason Needs: Cincinnati Bengals

In advance of March 14, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll begin this year’s series with the Cincinnati Bengals, who posted a 7-9 record and finished third in the AFC North a season ago.

Depth Chart (via Roster Resource)

Pending Free Agents:

Top 10 Cap Hits for 2018:

  1. Andy Dalton, QB: $16,300,000
  2. A.J. Green, WR: $13,750,000
  3. Dre Kirkpatrick, CB: $9,600,000
  4. Geno Atkins, DT: $9,550,000
  5. Vontaze Burfict, LB: $9,510,000
  6. Darqueze Dennard, CB: $8,526,000
  7. Carlos Dunlap, DE: $7,300,000
  8. Adam Jones, CB: $6,666,668
  9. George Iloka, S: $6,200,000
  10. Michael Johnson, DE: $6,125,000

Other:

  • Projected cap space (via Over the Cap): $37,436,799
  • 12th pick in draft
  • Must exercise or decline 2019 fifth-year option for T Cedric Ogbuehi

Three Needs:

1) Offensive line, offensive line, offensive line: The Bengals’ recent dip in performance — the club made five consecutive postseason appearances from 2011-15 before slipping below .500 in each of the past two years — was presaged during the 2015 draft, when Cincinnati used its first two selections on a pair of offensive linemen: Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher. Given that starting linemen Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler were scheduled to hit free agency after the 2016 campaign, the Bengals were planning ahead by envisioning a future starting five full of youth.Cedric Ogbuehi (Vertical)

That scheme has failed spectacularly: Ogbuehi has graded as a bottom-10 tackle in each of his two years as a starter, per Pro Football Focus, while Fisher hasn’t played more than 38% of Cincinnati’s offensive snaps in any of his three pro seasons. Russell Bodine continued his run as one of the worst starting centers in the NFL, Clint Boling settled in as a league-average left guard, and the Bengals relied on Andre Smith — in his second stint with the club — to play more than half their snaps. Cincinnati bottomed out in Football Outsiders‘ offensive line rankings, finishing 20th in adjusted sack rate and 24th in adjusted line yards.

Revamping an offensive line in a single offseason seems like a daunting task, but other clubs have managed the feat in the recent past. The Rams signed Whitworth and fellow aged veteran John Sullivan last spring and instantly fielded one of the the best front fives in the league. Same goes for the Vikings, who inked tackles Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers and drafted center Pat Elflein. As a condition of his return as head coach, Marvin Lewis indicated owner Mike Brown is open to spending in free agency — something the Bengals rarely do — so additions could be on the horizon.

The free agent crop of offensive tackles is barren, however, meaning Cincinnati isn’t likely to find a blindside protector on the open market. Nate Solder is the clear No. 1 option available among free agent tackles, and two other Patriots — Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle — comprise the next best choices among an uninspiring group. Fleming, still just 25 years old and a consistent blocker over the past two seasons, could be an intriguing solution for the Bengals, but a draft choice seems like a more palatable route as the club seeks front five patches.

Drafting another first-round offensive tackle would represent an admission that the Ogbuehi selection has been a failure, and it’s time for Cincinnati to cop to that mistake. Texas’ Connor Williams is considered the top tackle available in 2018, according to Scouts Inc. (ESPN Insider subscription required), while Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey or Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown could also be in consideration. In his first mock draft of the year, Todd McShay of ESPN.com sent Williams to the Bengals in the first round.

Justin Pugh (vertical)While the Bengals may not be able to find a suitable tackle during the free agent period, there are a number of interesting interior offensive linemen with expiring contracts. Giants lineman Justin Pugh would seem to be a perfect match for Cincinnati, as the former first-round pick can handle either tackle or guard, giving the Bengals flexibility as they sort out their front unit. Pugh will be expensive (he’ll likely earn in excess of $10MM annually), as will the Panthers’ Andrew Norwell, the top guard available. Pugh’s New York teammate, center Weston Richburg, could also be on the Bengals’ radar if they want a massive upgrade over Bodine.

If Cincinnati wants to spend in the middle of the market as opposed to the top, it could target a few ex-Cowboys, especially given that it just hired former Dallas offensive line coach Frank Pollack. Like Pugh, veteran Byron Bell has the ability to play tackle and guard, while interior lineman Jonathan Cooper also has recent experience with Pollack. Other mid-tier free agent options could include Ryan Jensen (Ravens), Josh Kline (Titans), Daniel Kilgore (49ers), Alex Boone (Cardinals), and Matt Slauson (Chargers).

Restricted free agency is a rarely-used player acquisition avenue for NFL teams (just three RFAs signed offer sheets in 2017), but the Bengals would do well to assess the RFA market in the coming weeks. Broncos center Matt Paradis is hitting restricted free agency after three solid seasons in Denver, but general manager John Elway will likely use at least a second-round tender on Paradis, making him cost prohibitive. Titans guard Quinton Spain, however, has been quietly competent as a starter from 2016-17, and isn’t certain to require anything more than an original round tender, making him a potential Cincinnati target.

2) Bring back Tyler Eifert, or find a new tight end: Eifert has long been referred to as “Rob Gronkowski Lite,” as the two share a penchant for red zone touchdowns, wear similar arm braces, and — unfortunately — struggle to deal with injuries. Through five NFL seasons, Eifert has appeared in less than 50% of the Bengals’ games (39 of 80) and has never played a full 16-game slate. In 2017, Eifert underwent back surgery and was placed on injured reserve after just two contests, so a long-term deal is likely out of the question given his recent injury history.Tyler Eifert (Vertical)

If the Bengals do re-sign Eifert, it will likely be a one- or two-year deal that is heavily laden with per-game roster bonuses, meaning Eifert would have a significant amount of money riding on his health. For that reason, I’d expect Eifert to land elsewhere and sign with a club that will insert performance-based incentive language into his next contract (something Cincinnati typically won’t do). As a last-ditch option, the Bengals could consider deploying the franchise tag on Eifert, but that would require a commitment north of $10MM.

With Eifert sidelined, backup tight end Tyler Kroft posted the best season of his three-year career by managing 42 receptions for 404 yards and seven touchdowns (the latter figure was good for sixth among NFL tight ends). The Bengals could certainly head into the 2018 campaign with Kroft as their starting tight end, but it’s not out of the question that the club pursues an upgrade. Depth behind Kroft is also an issue, as C.J. Uzomah, Cethan Carter, FB/TE hybrid Ryan Hewitt, and rookie Mason Schreck combined to play just 368 snaps in 2017.

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AFC East Notes: Jets, Dolphins, Landry, Pats

John Morton‘s firing may have come as a surprise to many, especially given that the Jets’ 2017 offense performed much better under Morton than most could have hoped. However, there may have been more to the dismissal, as Connor Hughes of NJ.com reports Morton and New York head coach Todd Bowles “clashed” throughout the season. Per Hughes, Bowles often made suggestions to Morton that were ignored, while other assistants on the Jets’ staff also took issue with Morton’s style. Meanwhile, Lions quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan could emerge as a candidate to replace Morton, as the Jets wanted to hire Callahan a year ago, per Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com (Twitter link), adding that Callahan has garnered offensive coordinator interest in each of the past two offseasons.

Here’s more from the AFC East:

  • Jarvis Landry says that while he and the Dolphins have exchanged contract figures, the negotiations between the two sides have been “disrespectful,” as Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald writes. Per Landry, the Dolphins made an extension offer in December, but haven’t responded to a counteroffer made by the slot receiver and his agent. It’s possible that Landry is seeking a Davante Adams-esque contract, which could mean a $14MM annual salary and more than $30MM in guarantees. Earlier today, Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald outlined several of the Dolphins’ concerns regarding talks with Landry.
  • The Dolphins have hired former Lions defensive line coach Kris Kocurek for the same position in South Beach, reports Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. In Miami, Kocurek will not only reunite with star defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but defensive coordinator Matt Burke, who worked with Kocurek in Detroit from 2009-13. Kocurek, whose possible defection to Miami was first reported by Albert Breer of TheMMQB.com, will replace ex-Dolphins DL coach Terrell Williams, whose contract was not renewed. The Lions have now lost several assistants from the defensive side of the ball, including coordinator Teryl Austin, who took the same role with the Bengals.
  • Running back Rex Burkhead will be available when the Patriots face the Jaguars in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). While Burkhead hasn’t been on the field since mid-December while dealing with a knee injury, he was apparently “close” to suiting up when New England faced Tennessee in the Divisional Round. Burkhead managed 264 yards rushing and 254 yards receiving during the regular season, but those numbers belie the fact that his role grew as the season progressed.

Cardinals To Interview Steve Wilks Again

The Cardinals will interview Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks a second time in relation their head coaching vacancy, according to Darren Urban of AZCardinals.com.Steve Wilks (vertical)

[RELATED: 2018 NFL Head Coaching Search Tracker]

Arizona appears to be narrowing its head coaching search, as Wilks, Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, and Falcons special teams coach Keith Armstrong are all slated to receive second interviews. Two other candidates — Matt Patricia and Pat Shurmur — are expected to accept head coaching positions elsewhere, while Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak has withdrawn his name from consideration. There’s no word as of yet as to whether Brian Flores, James Bettcher, or Jim Schwartz will meet with the Cardinals again.

Wilks, meanwhile, was linked to every NFL coaching vacancy this offseason with the exception of the Raiders, who had Jon Gruden as their No. 1 choice all along. Along with the Cardinals, Wilks still appears to be in contention for the Titans’ head coaching role, as well.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Seahawks’ Cliff Avril Wants To Keep Playing

Although Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll recently said Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril is “going to have a hard time playing football again” after suffering a serious neck injury that caused numbness in his arms, Avril hopes to continue his career, as he explained to Steve Wyche of NFL.com.Cliff Avril

“I believe so,” Avril said when asked if he will return to the NFL. “Right now it’s all about recovery. I had surgery. I’m in the process of recovering. It’s a long process, a long journey. When I get to the end of that, then I’ll figure out what’s next.

“I mean, it’s something I love to do. It’s what I’ve been doing forever and, just as a competitor, I want to show that I can come back if it’s possible, you know?” Avril said. “You do see all the injuries. You see the game from a different perspective when you’re on the sideline. And those thoughts do definitely pop into my head of ‘should I come back or not?’ But again, right now it’s all about recovery.”

The 31-year-old Avril has previously indicated that he’d prefer to continue playing in the NFL despite repeated comments from Carroll that both Avril and Seattle safety Kam Chancellor — also dealing with a neck injury — may be forced into retirement. Avril, a 10-year veteran, is under contract for the 2018 campaign with a cap charge of $8MM.

In 2017, Avril played only 151 defensive snaps before going down, and garnered a disappointing 44.1 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. That was the lowest mark of Avril’s career, and he’d been an exceptional player as recently as 2015. It’s unclear, however, whether the Seahawks — or any other club — would be willing to risk putting Avril on the field given his recent injury history.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Reserve/Futures Contracts: 1/17/18

Here are the latest reserve/futures contract signings from around the NFL. These deals will go into effect on the first day of the 2018 league year, with players joining their respective clubs’ offseason 90-man rosters:

Buffalo Bills

Denver Broncos

Indianapolis Colts

New York Jets

  • P Ben Turk

NFL News & NFL Rumors