NFC East: Sean Payton

With so many toys at Jay Gruden's disposal in Robert Griffin III, Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts, Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson, how does Alfred Morris fit in offense?

In his three years as the Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator, Gruden had two 1,000-yard rushers in Cedric Benson (1,067 in 2011) and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (1,094 in 2012). The Bengals ran for 1,788 yards, 1,745 yards and 1,755 yards in Gruden’s three years as coordinator.

But he also had A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Andrew Hawkins and Mohamed Sanu at receiver. In the playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers, he got pass-happy.

“Jay sees the offense through the eyes of the quarterback, and having played the position, he has a great deal of respect for the position,” said Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said at the NFL owners meetings in this Washington Post story. “He’ll say these guys are the luckiest guys because he would’ve given his right arm – left arm, I guess – to have the opportunity to be an NFL quarterback. So, he really is conscientious of that. He really has things unfold through the eyes of the quarterback."

Because he sees things as a quarterback, will he rely more on the passing game? It has been an argument used against Jason Garrett for his years as the playcaller with the Dallas Cowboys. Sean Payton was a quarterback and he leans more to the pass with the New Orleans Saints.

It’s only natural.

But Morris offers Gruden a better running back than what he had in Cincinnati. He rushed for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns as a rookie in 2012. He followed that up with 1,275 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013.

Was it a function of Mike Shanahan’s scheme and the coach’s ability to find running backs anywhere and everywhere?

The NFL is a passing league these days, but Gruden can’t get away from Morris and become too pass-happy if the Redskins want to be successful.
IRVING, Texas -- In 2006, Sean Payton wanted to bring Tony Sparano with him to the New Orleans Saints as offensive coordinator.

Bill Parcells did not want to lose Sparano, so the Cowboys denied the request. Sparano was upset. He thought he was being blocked from a promotion even if Payton would call the plays for the Saints and the offensive coordinator was more of a title than anything else.

The Cowboys did not have a coach to take over the offensive line for Sparano in 2006. Parcells came to the Cowboys without “his guys,” but quickly established Sparano as one of “Parcells guys,” moving him from tight ends coach to offensive line coach to running game coordinator.

Sparano ended up calling the plays for the Cowboys in 2006, helping a young quarterback named Tony Romo through the final 10 games of the season.

Sparano lost the play-calling duties a year later to Jason Garrett after Parcells retired. He was upset, but three-fifths of his offensive line started in the Pro Bowl that year. In 2008 Parcells named Sparano as head coach of the Miami Dolphins.

Eight years later, the Cowboys are preventing Bill Callahan from moving on when his authority on offense is about to be usurped. According to a source, the Cleveland Browns were denied permission to speak with Callahan about joining their staff. The Baltimore Ravens were reportedly blocked from talking to Callahan as well.

With the official announcement of Scott Linehan as the play-caller in 2014, Callahan finds himself being shuffled to the back of a confusing offensive setup. This is still Garrett’s offense. Tony Romo will still have major involvement in the game-planning. Linehan will make his amendments to the passing game. Callahan is back in an offensive line role with run-game duties.

Unlike 2006, the Cowboys have a ready-made replacement for Callahan in Frank Pollack. The linemen have a lot of trust in Pollack. Truth be told, Pollack worked more with the line in 2013 than Callahan, simply because the offensive coordinator duties pulled Callahan out of the linemen’s room.

It is well within the Cowboys' rights to keep Callahan, but in doing so they are potentially creating a miserable situation that can adversely affect the entire team.

Cowboys didn't run Mike Zimmer out

January, 15, 2014
IRVING, Texas -- Mike Zimmer is finally a head coach in the NFL. The Minnesota Vikings will reportedly name him their next head coach, and it’s about time Zimmer got a shot.

He deserved one a few years ago. Kudos to the Vikings and Rick Spielman for hiring Zimmer, who was a Dallas Cowboys' assistant from 1994-06 and still has a home in the area.

But let’s put to rest something about the Cowboys running Zimmer off after the 2006 season. They didn't.

If you believe that, then you can never be upset with the notion that Jerry Jones picks the assistant coaches. Never.

After Bill Parcells retired, Jones interviewed 10 candidates. Three were on the staff: Tony Sparano, Todd Haley and Todd Bowles. Zimmer wasn’t one of the interviewees.

Jones finally picked Wade Phillips as coach because of Phillips’ success in running a 3-4 defense. The Cowboys had just finished their second year running the scheme. Their work in the draft and in free agency was about finding 3-4 players.

Were the Cowboys going to keep Zimmer as the coordinator in 2007 with Phillips running his own defense? Of course not. This was Phillips’ defense and Phillips’ team. And if they did, then we would have heard more complaints that Jones would not let Phillips hire either coordinator, Zimmer or Jason Garrett, who was actually hired before Phillips.

There is also some revisionist history regarding Sean Payton’s tenure here too; that Jones never should have let Payton walk to the New Orleans Saints. Was Jones supposed to get rid of Parcells after the 2005 season so he could keep Payton from taking the New Orleans Saints’ gig? Of course not.

Now if you want to say Jones should have done more to get Payton after the coach was suspended for a year by the NFL and had a little bit of time as a free agent in 2012, then I’m with you. But in 2006 there was no way of knowing Payton would become what he is today.

Let’s bring this back to Zimmer and 2006-07.

Zimmer’s expertise had been in the 4-3, but when Parcells wanted to make the switch to the 3-4 in 2005, Zimmer became an expert on it as well. It’s part of the reason why he coordinated such strong defenses with Cincinnati and partly why he got the job with the Vikings today.

Five Wonders: Changes on defense?

December, 11, 2013
IRVING, Texas -- Those of you wondering where Five Wonders went on Tuesday, fear not. It's here on Wednesday.

We just pushed it back a day with the Dallas Cowboys playing on ESPN's “Monday Night Football.” And boy wasn't that an exciting contest?

Anyway, off we go ...

1. Jerry Jones said there will be changes on the defensive side of the ball after the debacle against the Chicago Bears. I wonder what they would be. And how big of a difference could they actually make? The scheme is the scheme. They can't become some blitz-happy team overnight. The personnel is the personnel. So does it make a difference if J.J. Wilcox starts over Jeff Heath at safety? Minimally. I'd look for Sterling Moore to be the nickel back if Morris Claiborne cannot return this week from a hamstring injury. Huge difference? Perhaps considering how lost B.W. Webb looks. Injuries could force a shakeup at linebacker. Does DeVonte Holloman get some time? He's not a weak-side linebacker by trade, but maybe it's time he plays instead of Ernie Sims or Cam Lawrence if Bruce Carter can't go. The defensive line does not have many options, but maybe Drake Nevis moves in for Nick Hayden. Again, we're not talking major changes.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Rod Marinelli
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsWould Rod Marinelli be interested in rejoining Lovie Smith if Smith were to become a head coach again?
2. This isn't so much an “I wonder,” but it is for those wondering if Rod Marinelli will join Lovie Smith should Smith return to the NFL as a head coach somewhere. From what I'm told, Marinelli signed a three-year deal with the Cowboys when he joined the team in the offseason. Technically Jones could allow Marinelli to join Smith if he wanted, but he does not have to. The promotion rule was dropped a long time ago. Since Jones would not let Joe DeCamillis leave for the Oakland Raiders two years ago to be with Dennis Allen or Tony Sparano to leave for the New Orleans Saints when Sean Payton took over in 2006, I can't see Jones letting Marinelli walk. The defensive line has been a drive-through of sorts because of injuries and Marinelli has made it work. It's not been perfect by any stretch but it's been fine.

3. With all of the talk about how well Tyron Smith has played this season, I wonder if the Cowboys will be more patient than normal in talking about an extension for Smith. Under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, the Cowboys have a fifth-year option on Smith in which they would pay him roughly the amount of the transition tag in 2015. They have to make their decision to use the option year in the spring and the money becomes guaranteed after the 2014 season. Maybe the Cowboys will wait because they will have to do something with Dez Bryant, who will be a free agent after next season. They could franchise Bryant and use the option year on Smith, but with salary-cap limitations I can see them being more willing to get a deal done with Bryant first. Because the option year is a new tool teams will have a difficult time navigating those negotiations on long-term deals. Bryant will be a more pressing deal to get done and the Cowboys will be able to keep Smith in their back pocket, so to speak.

4. I wonder how strongly the Cowboys attack the defensive line in the April draft. Marinelli played a big part in the team choosing to pass on Sharrif Floyd last April because they did not want to use a first-round pick on what they viewed was a two-down defensive lineman. A few years ago the Cowboys saw their offensive line grow old with Marc Colombo, Leonard Davis, Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier. They cut Colombo, Davis and Gurode and bit the bullet. Jason Hatcher turns 32 next season and will be a free agent. Anthony Spencer turns 30 in December, is coming off microfracture surgery to his knee and is also a free agent. DeMarcus Ware turns 32 next July and has been slowed by nagging injuries this year. Their one building-block defensive lineman is Tyrone Crawford and he is coming off a torn Achilles. For as well as George Selvie has played this year, he is not a building-block player. He is solid, but you would feel better about him being a backup than a full-timer. The rest of the guys still have things to prove. If the last few years has been about rebuilding the offensive line, I wonder if it's time to start rebuilding the defensive line.

5. I wonder if assistant director of player personnel Will McClay becomes a sought after front-office personnel person. The NFL has tweaked its Rooney Rule and now teams will have to interview at least one minority candidate for their head coaching or general manager vacancy. Last year there were eight head coaching vacancies and seven general manager jobs and none went to a minority. McClay, who is African-American, was elevated to his current role in the offseason and has the run of the personnel department. He has yet to set up a draft board, but he has been responsible for a lot of the pro personnel work in recent years and has found players that have come off the street and contributed to the Cowboys' success. He was a former head coach with the Dallas Desperados and has also helped the coaches on game day. He has received interest from teams in the past, but the Cowboys have not let him leave. This time they may not have a choice.
IRVING, Texas – Sean Payton made his bones as a playcaller early on in his time as the New Orleans Saints’ head coach. Before this season, Jason Garrett had called every play for the Dallas Cowboys since 2007.

When these coaches and good friends meet Sunday at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Payton will be calling the plays, while Garrett will be overseeing the Cowboys’ offense but not directly communicating with quarterback Tony Romo.

Payton and Garrett have had role reversals of sorts.

[+] EnlargeSean Payton, Jason Garrett
AP Photo/Mike FuentesSean Payton (left) and Jason Garrett made their bones as playcallers. But only one is still at it.
In 2011 Payton was forced to give it up after suffering a serious knee injury on the sideline during a game. Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael took over with Payton injured, and the Saints scored 62 points in their first game.

“So I told Pete that might be a good one to end on,” Payton said. “He did a great job for us in [2011] and a great job for us last year. He’s very in tune to what we’re doing daily. He’s a big reason why we’ve had the success we’ve had here offensively, and someone [who] will and during the course of any game call plays for us. [He] puts together all the practice plans and really is very involved in our game-planning. I think more importantly about the details of the execution philosophically, the way you want to approach each week, those things become more important.”

Carmichael called the plays last season with Payton serving a one-year suspension, but Payton is back to calling the plays for the Saints.

As good as Payton is as a playcaller, quarterback Drew Brees said the Saints missed Payton the head coach more.

“You forget all the things that are required of the head coach to be responsible for,” Brees said. “Some are more involved than others. But Sean Payton is a very hands-on coach that kind of has his hands in everything and feels responsible for everything. I think we missed him most in other areas, not necessarily just play calling.”

Depending on the story, Garrett this year either had the play-calling duties taken away from him by owner and general manager Jerry Jones or was willing to allow offensive coordinator Bill Callahan to call the plays.

Garrett remains involved in the process, but he has let Callahan run the show with Romo. The Cowboys are fourth in the NFL in points per game (28.6) but 17th in yards per game (342.8). Since a 48-point performance against Denver it has been a struggle for the offense.

But Garrett has remained an observer.

“I think it’s been a good thing,” Garrett said of the play-calling switch. “It’s something that we’ve tried to do since I became the head coach, coming from the coordinator position. They’re two full-time jobs, and in order to do each of them well, you have to focus on really every aspect of them. There are only so many hours in the day, so since I became the head coach, I was always trying to delegate some of the responsibilities I had within the coordinator position and within some of the head-coaching responsibilities that I had. So now I can be more focused on some of the head-coaching stuff.

"Certainly I’m in all of the meetings on offense and many of the meetings on defense during the week. With the installations of the plays, I’m involved in all that. But you need to delegate and more importantly empower the people around you to do those jobs. We’ve done that. I think that structure has worked well for us. That doesn’t mean that because we’re in that structure, everything is going to be perfect. We need to keep working hard to make whatever structure we use the best it can be for our players to execute ball plays.”
CANTON, Ohio -- Bill Parcells has a tall and successful coaching tree that features Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin and Sean Payton, who have combined to win six Super Bowls since 2001.

All three will be in attendance at Saturday night’s Hall of Fame ceremony.

“I had a pretty good crew,” Parcells said. “That’s what we say in Jersey. I really did.”

Belichick was an assistant coach under Parcells with the New York Giants, New York Jets and New England Patriots. Coughlin was Parcells’ assistant with the Giants. Payton had a three-year run with the Cowboys from 2003 to '05.

It was almost only a two-year run when Payton initially accepted the Oakland Raiders' offer to become head coach following the 2004 season, but Parcells and owner Jerry Jones talked Payton into staying with Dallas, bumping Payton’s salary to $1 million.

Payton left after the ’05 season for the New Orleans Saints.

“Sean gets it,” Parcells said. “He really gets it. Like all of us when we’re young, he didn’t always get it, but he gets it now. And he knows what’s important, and he’s absolutely a terrific listener. He’s very bright, creative and I have a high regard for him. I really do.”

Story behind the Larry Allen pump

August, 3, 2013
CANTON, Ohio -- It was easy to tell when Larry Allen was excited during a game.

He would raise his right arm and pump it up and down after a long gain.

The crowd noticed, but Allen said he never really caught the reaction.

“I don’t think the crowd knew what that meant,” Allen said. “Whenever I did that, that was to Sean Payton because I wanted him to run the same play over again. So if I did something good on that play, I’d do that and he’d run the same play.”

John Madden has said Allen is one of the three best guards to ever play, along with John Hannah and Gene Upshaw. Bill Parcells had Allen with Hannah and Mike Munchak as one of the three best.

The reason? His strength.

“I’d punch them, two-handed punch, pass protection,” Allen said.

He learned it from Hudson Houck, his line coach when the Cowboys drafted him in 1994.

“I think he has four Hall of Famers he’s coached,” Allen said. “Players he coached played in over 100 Pro Bowls, so he’s a great coach.”
Our countdown of the top 20 coaches in NFL history stops today at No. 11, which is where we find former New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys coach Bill Parcells. Known for his work in New York, where he guided the Giants to their first two Super Bowl titles, Parcells was also the first coach to lead four different teams to the playoffs. He reached the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots and also coached the New York Jets and the Cowboys to the playoffs during his 19 seasons as an NFL head coach.

All-time Giants great Lawrence Taylor helped us out with this insight into what it was like to play for Parcells:
As good a player as I was, there were times when I wasn't into it. The way he got you hyped up was amazing. When he said something, I believed what he said. I would have a bad game the week before and people were asking, "What's the matter with Taylor?" Reporters were asking, "What's the matter with Taylor?" So all week long he'd call me "What's-the-matter-with?" He had them put that on the back of my practice jersey.

He was such a master of B.S. You'd get so fired up, you'd go out and destroy people. I was All-Pro for 10 years, but when Bill left, I mentally left. I was retired three years before I actually retired. I only came outside once a week to practice. It was like losing a mentor, a friend.

One time, before we played the Redskins, he put plane tickets in my locker. [New Orleans Saints linebacker] Pat Swilling had a great game against Washington the week before, and he said, "Go down to New Orleans and trade helmets with Pat Swilling." That just got me riled up and made me want to kick the s--- out of them. After the game, he came up to me and said, "You know, you played well." There was nothing better than when he'd put his arm around you and say you played a hell of a game.

One of the testaments to Parcells' coaching greatness is his coaching tree, which you can see here includes Super Bowl champions Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin and Sean Payton as well as a number of other names that won't be unfamiliar to you. Parcells is a 2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee and surely a worthy one at that. When you think about Halls of Fame, you often ask yourself the question of whether you can tell the story without the person. It would be hard to tell the story of the past 30 years in the NFL without Bill Parcells playing a prominent role.
NEW ORLEANS -- A Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer, period. They don't rank the busts in Canton in any particular order, don't stack certain ones above others.

Yet to those of us who perceive these things from the outside, it sometimes seems as though our Halls of Fame contain an extra, higher rung somewhere for the greatest of the all-time greats -- people who, even among fellow Hall of Famers, seem to exist on a higher plane of excellence.

Bill Parcells, the former New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys coach who was elected to the Hall of Fame on Saturday, is one of those people. That he was not elected last year in the first year of his second time being eligible was a greater surprise than his election this time around.

Parcells was a giant with a lowercase "g" as well as an uppercase one. He was a changer of the game, a program-builder, the only coach in league history to lead four teams (Jets and Patriots) to the playoffs. He was a two-time Super Bowl champion with the Giants and won an AFC Championship with the Patriots. He coached eight division champions and won 57 percent of his games as a head coach. The roster of coaches he helped develop as assistants includes Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin and Sean Payton.

Criteria for election to Halls of Fame can hard to define, but one question you often hear as a tool for evaluation is, "Could you tell the history of the game without him?" Parcells' impact is such that you could not tell the story of the past three decades in the NFL without spending a good portion of it on him.

He's elite even as a Hall of Famer, one of the busts people will make the trip to see, and he clearly deserved his election.

On this Giants-Sean Payton thing

December, 7, 2012
A bit of controversy this Friday about a comment by New York Giants punter Steve Weatherford in this New York Times story about the difficulty of trying to ensure that suspended New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton isn't communicating with his team. The story, by good, responsible journalist Sam Borden, is a thoughtful look at the nature of Payton's suspension and the complex issues surrounding the enforcement of it. It's worth reading, and timely in New York with the Saints coming to town for a game Sunday.

Unfortunately, the part that's getting the attention is this part:
The Saints visit the Giants on Sunday, and in interviews this week, several Giants players questioned just how silent Payton has been this season. Punter Steve Weatherford expressed a common sentiment when he said, "Of course he will get his message to them somehow."

Weatherford added: "I'm not saying anything about Sean Payton as a person or anything, but I think any coach would do that. It's not like he's just going to sit at home and watch the games and not have any thoughts. His message will be heard."

Now, the reason this is even noteworthy in the first place is that the Giants have a real and well-documented habit of making pointed negative comments about their opponents in the weeks leading up to games. Offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride spoke during 49ers week about how San Franscisco's Justin Smith "gets away with murder" by grabbing hold of offensive linemen to clear room for the pass rush. And defensive end Justin Tuck has accused the offensive lines of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons of dirty play in weeks before the Giants faced them. Those are two examples that jump to mind, but it happens frequently enough that it's fair to believe the Giants do it as a purposeful tactic, in an effort to call attention to an issue they want the officials to notice on game day. Nothing illegal or even necessarily wrong about it, but it's part of the way they like to do business.

This, however, is different. This from Weatherford strikes me as a guy just talking, off the top of his head, the way you and your buddies might speculate about the Payton situation while you're at the bar on the night before the game. Weatherford isn't alleging anything. He's just delivering a "come on, think about it" kind of speculation that almost anyone who's wondered about the Saints/Payton situation has thought to himself at some point. Same kind of natural skepticism that likely led Sam and/or his New York Times editors to come up with the idea for this story in the first place.

So in summary, while the Giants do love to stir up doubt about opponents' tactics, I don't think this falls in line with the Gilbride and Tuck stuff I cited earlier. I think this is an interesting question -- how do you ensure that a suspended coach isn't really finding a way to coach the team from afar? -- but I don't see it as a calculated effort to undermine the Saints on Sunday. Maybe I'm wrong, but this as a controversy feels like a stretch.

Blogger Blitz: Eagles next coach?

December, 6, 2012

With Andy Reid almost certainly on his way out the door as Philadelphia Eagles coach, I get a lot of questions these days about who will replace him. Fact is, I don't have any idea, and I can't find anyone who does. All anyone's got right now is speculation, and when we speculate about someone else's decisions we try to look for some sort of clues about the reasons those decisions might be made.

So in this week's Blogger Blitz video, I discuss one possible factor -- public relations appeal. No, I don't think the Eagles should pick a head coach based on P.R. appeal. But you're nuts if you don't think that's one thing weighing on owner Jeffrey Lurie's mind. People close to the Eagles will tell you that it upsets Lurie that he's got this team that has won so many games and made so many playoff appearances over the past decade-plus and yet the city of Philadelphia has such strong negative feelings about it. He has a lot of money sunk into this team, and the idea that its fans can't stand it is irksome, which is understandable.

As we imagine who might be the next coach, then, it's worth considering that it would be someone Lurie can present to the fans in a manner that is upbeat, positive and hopeful. Someone who won't make eyes roll when the news is announced. This is a fan base that famously booed the announcement that the team had drafted Donovan McNabb, and which has taken to using the tone of Reid's say-nothing news conferences as fuel for its animosity toward him. The announcement of the new coach will get nearly as much attention as the coach himself will. I think Lurie and the Eagles will do whatever they can to hire the best-qualified football coach, but whether right or wrong I'm sure that they'll ask about each potential candidate, "How will our fans take this?"

So no one from the current staff, certainly. And realistically, they're not getting someone like Sean Payton to bail on Drew Brees so he can come coach Nick Foles. The names I raised in the video include Oregon's Chip Kelly, who's probably the hottest candidate from the college ranks and Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, who's having another big year and seems somewhat universally respected as a coaching candidate. I wonder if they'd even take a look at a guy like Bruce Arians, who's done such a fine job filling in for Chuck Pagano with the Colts. Total shot-in-the-dark speculation on my part, but he's a guy about whom people are saying all positive things these days.

Just something to think about, is all. Thanks for watching the video.

Eagles' problems won't leave with Reid

November, 27, 2012
Eagles fansAP Photo/Michael PerezPhiladelphia fans should get ready for an uncertain and murky future as the Eagles look to rebuild.
PHILADELPHIA -- If you think this is rock bottom, Philadelphia Eagles fans, then you're in for an ugly surprise. The most alarming thing about this lost Eagles season has nothing to do with this season at all. This season is over. A seventh straight loss, this one 30-22 to fellow NFC bottom-dweller Carolina on "Monday Night Football," dropped the Eagles to 3-8 and ensured that there's no way they can make anything of 2012. Coach Andy Reid is sure to be gone next year, along with quarterback Michael Vick. You will have your scapegoats, Eagles fans, and your catharsis.

But then what? The Eagles will need a new coach, and whoever they get won't have won seven division titles or led his team to five conference championship games. They'll need a new quarterback, assuming Nick Foles can't establish himself over these final five games as the obvious long-term answer, and there's no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in the upcoming draft, no Peyton Manning in the upcoming free-agent market. The 2013 Eagles will be about starting over, from scratch, and beginning a rebuilding project that could make fans pine for an 8-8 season.

Because you can dream about big-game coaches with Super Bowl rings, but the fact is no coach has ever won the Super Bowl with two different teams and the likelihood is that a guy like Sean Payton isn't going to willingly leave Drew Brees for Foles. The Eagles are probably going to have to take a chance on an exciting-but-unproven college coach or up-and-coming coordinator and hope they luck out the way they did 14 years ago with Reid.

And you can imagine the towering Foles and his big arm as your franchise quarterback, but in order to become that he'd have to beat very long odds. Foles was a third-round pick -- the 88th overall pick in the draft. Of the 41 quarterbacks who have started NFL games this season, only eight went later than 88. And only three of those eight -- Arizona's Ryan Lindley (185), New England's Tom Brady (199) and Dallas' Tony Romo (undrafted) -- are current starters for their original teams. It can happen, sure, but it's awfully unusual to find your long-term quarterback answer after the first round. The Eagles look as though they could have a top-five pick in this year's draft, but as of now it's unclear whether there's a quarterback worthy of such a pick.

There's also the troublesome fact that the way they're using Foles right now, there's no way they can learn anything about him. Foles was 16-for-21 for 119 yards Monday night, subsisting almost exclusively on screen passes and on handoffs to rookie running back Bryce Brown. His best downfield throw resulted in a 51-yard pass interference penalty and set up one of Brown's two rushing touchdowns, but many of his other shots downfield were scary, scatter-armed jobs that nearly got intercepted.

"You have to keep shooting," Reid said of Foles. "And we'll continue to do that."

But even the Foles situation is messy, since Reid still hasn't said Foles would continue to start when and if Vick gets back from his concussion. Reid is a professional, and if his job is to get Foles ready so that someone else can coach him next year, he'll surely do that. But the way the offensive line is at this point, it might not be in Reid's best interest to keep Foles in the pocket long enough to see what he can do downfield.

"I don't think specifically about that," Foles said of a potential Vick return and of his own future in Philadelphia. "My goal when I go to work is to be the best player possible and to work at my craft every day to get better. And if you do that, whatever happens happens."

The offensive line is not, I don't think, one of the Eagles' biggest offseason concerns. They can fix it just by getting guys like Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans back healthy. But they will need to make major changes on defense, where they have major question marks at safety and cornerback and no idea what kind of scheme (4-3? 3-4?) the presumed new coaching staff will implement for 2013 and beyond. They have plenty of quality players on the defensive line, but the worthiness of the incumbents to occupy places in the team's future will depend on the personnel needs of the new regime. On offense, they'd do well to find a wide receiver who's more than 6 feet tall and can stay somewhat reliably healthy.

There is much to do that doesn't even involve coach and quarterback, and whoever is brought in to run the Eagles this offseason will have a major project on his hands. That's kind of why it doesn't make a lot of sense to fire Reid now, absent an obvious option to immediately begin making the decisions that will lead the team into this uncertain future. Whoever would replace Reid now would be as lame a duck as Reid is, going to work each day wondering who's going to occupy his office two months from now. There's no assistant on staff who's a plausible enough Reid replacement to merit a five-week audition. The Eagles might just as well ride this lost season out with the guy they have now, make a clean break and then hand the whole thing over to someone new. Whoever that person is will find the Eagles' future cloudy enough as it already is. No need to complicate things further in the meantime.

A vote of confidence for Jason Garrett

November, 8, 2012
Stephen Jones, the Dallas Cowboys' executive vice president, calls speculation about the job security of coach Jason Garrett "ridiculous." Per Todd Archer:
With the possibility of Sean Payton becoming a free-agent coach after his suspension ends, there has been much speculation between the New Orleans coach and Cowboys.

Jones, however, believes Garrett is putting the right culture in place for long-term success.

"I think we're going in the right direction," Jones said. "I think there's accountability. I think our players play hard. I think we not only have good football players, I think we have good people. I think one thing about our team you can look at it and they're playing hard."

This speaks once again to the disconnect between the opinion Cowboys fans seem to have about the current state and direction of the franchise and the opinion that Cowboys ownership has about it. Stephen and Jerry Jones consider Garrett to be in the process (and the center) of a rebuilding project. They have seen major improvements this year in areas that were their biggest 2011 weaknesses, specifically the coverage of wide receivers and the ability to actually tackle offensive players on the opposing teams. They likely believe that devoting next offseason's resources to the lingering weak spots, such as the offensive line, will result in further improvement. And they like the way their team plays, even if they wish it would score enough points to win more often than it does.

These are all reasonable perceptions, of course. The complaint I always hear from fans is that the Cowboys have been "rebuilding" since the mid-1990s and nothing ever comes of it. But while Jerry Jones has a reputation for irrationality, Stephen has more say than ever in the day-to-day operations of the team and Jerry does appear determined to exercise patience where in the past he may not have done so. Holding the failures of past coaches, or even some of the poor roster decisions Jerry himself has made, against Garrett would be unfair. And until last week, he did have a winning record as a head coach.

So while I always think we need to take the public pronouncements of coaches, GMs, owners and team officials with multiple grains of salt, I think there's evidence to support the idea that the Joneses mean it when they express support for Garrett. And while certainly things could change if the remaining eight games go poorly, the schedule eases out considerably from here on, and it's more than possible that Garrett finishes the season strong and gives them no reason to change their minds about him.

Cowboys in better shape than Eagles

November, 8, 2012
Jason Garrett/Andy ReidAP Photo/Getty ImagesJason Garrett and Andy Reid's teams are both 3-5, but it's Garrett who's in a stronger long-term position with his team.

Back in August, when they looked ahead to their Week 10 matchup against each other, the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles probably envisioned two rivals in the thick of a race for the postseason, hooking up in a game packed with glorious import.

Sunday's game in Philadelphia is not that. It is a game between two 3-5 teams ranked near the bottom of the league in scoring offense that have combined to win exactly one game since September. Let's just say the first-place Giants aren't going to be glued to their televisions sweating this one out.

The winner of the Cowboys-Eagles game on Sunday may plausibly be able to convince itself its season is not over, although the road back to contention will remain difficult. The loser will have the same record as the Redskins and probably will be thinking about offseason plans. But just because both of these teams are in the same leaky Week 10 boat doesn't mean they share a long-range outlook. I don't think either will rebound and reach this year's playoffs, but in the short term and beyond, the Cowboys are the team in considerably better shape. Here's a look at the reasons why:
    [+] EnlargeRomo
    Josh D. Weiss/US PresswireThe Cowboys are trying to sign Tony Romo to a contract extension, despite the quarterback's uneven play lately.

  • Quarterback: Tony Romo is not having his best season, this is true. He's thrown a league-leading 13 interceptions against just 10 touchdowns, and his passer rating is just 82.2. He's never finished lower than 90 in a season in that category. After he had his best statistical season in 2011, more was expected, and disappointment is understandable. But Romo still has more of a track record as a top NFL quarterback than the Eagles' Michael Vick does, and the Cowboys are trying to sign him to a long-term contract. Management and the players believe in Romo and are prepared to move into the future with him as their quarterback. The Eagles, assuming they don't make a miracle recovery, are likely to opt out of Vick's contract at the end of this season and rebuild with rookie Nick Foles or look for someone else. The Cowboys have far greater stability at the most important position.
  • Head coach job status: Obviously, the Eagles' Andy Reid is a better and more accomplished head coach than the Cowboys' Jason Garrett. But his situation is a far greater fiasco. Regardless of any outside perceptions or assumptions, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has expressed nothing but strong support for Garrett as his head coach. So unless the players choose to read and get caught up in all the Sean Payton speculation, they don't have reason to wonder who's going to be coaching them next year. By contrast, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie gave Reid an apparent ultimatum before the season to finish over .500 or lose his job. The players know all about that, and Reid is obviously much more uncomfortable and (justifiably) worried about his job status than Garrett is about his. It's an inescapable issue that hovers over the Eagles right now, and it has to be affecting players. If you don't feel like your coach is going to be around next year, you necessarily have to wonder whether you will be, too.
  • The offensive line: The Cowboys' offensive line isn't about to win any awards, and it obviously will need upgrades in key places in the offseason. But within the context of 2012, it is showing improvement week over week. The Eagles' line keeps losing starters to injury and disintegrating. The Cowboys also have a franchise left tackle in Tyron Smith around whom they can build. The Eagles don't know whether or when they'll get franchise left tackle Jason Peters back from his Achilles injuries, or whehter he'll be the same player he was before he got hurt. The Eagles' offensive line schemes are specifically tied to the teachings of second-year line coach Howard Mudd, and (see last paragraph) there's no guarantee he's back next year, which means they might need to reconstruct the line in the mold of a new coach. There's more uncertainty in an area that is vital to any kind of success, as the Eagles have seen this season. The Cowboys' line is a mess, but with Smith at left tackle and Bill Callahan coaching it, it at least can see the path forward.
  • Defensive identity: The Cowboys' defense is one of the toughest in the NFL this year under second-year coordinator Rob Ryan. Led by DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher up front and with Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne doing what they were brought in to do at cornerback most weeks, Dallas knows what it wants to do and is doing it consistently. The Eagles' defense is on its third coordinator in the past two years and seems unable to get everyone on the same page from quarter to quarter, let alone from game to game. The pass rush has vanished, the coverage schemes are unreliable and the firing of coordinator Juan Castillo for Todd Bowles preceded their worst two defensive games of the year. The Eagles are going to have major decisions to make about their defensive schemes and personnel once this season ends.
  • The schedule: After Sunday, five of the Cowboys' remaining seven games will be at home, and only one (Week 15 versus Pittsburgh) will be against a team that currently has a winning record. The Eagles also face only one winning team (Week 17 at the Giants), but four of their final seven games are road games and four are division games. If you believe either of these teams can make a run, or that the Giants may yet come back to the pack, the Cowboys' remaining schedule appears more favorable. So their short-term outlook is better, too, for all of those other reasons and this one.

Sunday's matchup may look like a game between two teams with nothing going on. But everything is relative, and in the big picture it's actually a game between two teams moving in somewhat opposite directions. And the Cowboys are the team that looks as though it's trending up.

Sunday’s startling news that Sean Payton’s contract with the New Orleans Saints has been voided raises more questions than it answers.

A purported extension between the coach and team, negotiated in September 2011, was nullified by the NFL, reportedly due to an impermissible escape clause allowing Payton to become a free agent in the event general manager Mickey Loomis were to exit, whether voluntarily or involuntarily (through suspension or firing).

No revision?

Like player contracts, coaching contracts require final approval by the commissioner’s office. I negotiated dozens of coach contracts, and although I never had one disapproved, there were times I was required to change or revise language in a player contract prior to approval. That call from the league would lead to further negotiation with the player and agent to resolve the matter to the league’s satisfaction.

This raises the question as to why the Saints and Payton did not, and apparently still have not, quickly and quietly resolved the matter to allow for contract approval.

With the disapproval having taken place more than a year ago, my sense is that either the relationship between Payton and the team may not be as close as it was or the presence of the now-suspended Loomis was so important to Payton that he would not agree to revise the clause. Or there is the possibility Payton would prefer free agency to remaining with the Saints.

Tying to Loomis

Why would Payton have a clause tying his continued allegiance to the team to Loomis? Certainly the two are close, but this type of language is uncommon. With the bounty inquiries going on over a three-year period, one wonders what Payton or his agent knew about potential issues concerning Loomis’ continued presence with the team.

I learned firsthand that the NFL would not approve a player contract tied to another player. When negotiating Aaron Rodgers’ rookie contract in Green Bay, we tried to project incentives and escalators in the future dependent on Brett Favre still playing for the Packers. I inquired about linking Rodgers’ escalator thresholds to whether Favre had retired. I was emphatically told that I could not.

It is not known the reason the Loomis clause was disapproved, but it may revolve around the same theory of tying one employee’s rights to another’s.

Toll the bell?

There is also the question of whether the contract “tolls” for this season, meaning that although Payton is suspended, the contract is suspended as well, leaving a year left on the original deal. Any player suspended in the final year of his contract does not become a free agent after suspension; he would still have a year left. It is unclear why Payton’s contract would not be similarly treated.

These are just a few questions raised by the Payton news. It is even more curious that we are discussing this in November 2012, when the NFL rejected the extension in September 2011.

Clearly, there is more to the story, which will play out when Payton comes off suspension after the Super Bowl. Stay tuned.