NFC West: Andy Reid

Former San Francisco 49ers receiver A.J. Jenkins could compete with former St. Louis Rams receiver Donnie Avery for a starting spot in the Kansas City Chiefs' offense.

That coincidence illustrates the high level of turnover at the position around here.

The San Francisco 49ers' Michael Crabtree and the Seattle Seahawks' Percy Harvin suffered serious injuries this offseason. The St. Louis Rams decided against retaining 2012 starters Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson. The Arizona Cardinals still have Larry Fitzgerald, of course, and they're excited about Michael Floyd. But even they have remained on the lookout for supporting players at the position, including the recently signed Mike Thomas.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Jenkins
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY SportsA.J. Jenkins was one of just two receivers the 49ers drafted before the fifth round between 2009 and 2012.
The chart below provides some context. It shows every wide receiver NFC West teams have selected in the past five drafts. I've shaded the 49ers' selections to show why they're scrambling at the position after losing Crabtree indefinitely and deciding Jenkins wasn't worth keeping for a second season. Crabtree and Jenkins were the only wideouts San Francisco selected in the first five rounds from 2009 until the team used a 2013 fourth-round pick for Quinton Patton, who recently returned from a finger injury.

We should have expected the 49ers to get more from their wideouts as their quarterback situation has improved. That happened for the Seattle Seahawks last season as Russell Wilson gained momentum. Receivers Golden Tate and Sidney Rice began producing at levels they had not achieved in Seattle previously.

Crabtree seemed to benefit from the 49ers' improved quarterback play last season. Jenkins didn't earn or otherwise receive sufficient chances. That helps explain why 2010 sixth-round choice Kyle Williams has ranked as the leading contender to start opposite 2013 trade acquisition Anquan Boldin while Crabtree and 2012 free-agent addition Mario Manningham remain on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

Williams has outperformed his sixth-round pedigree, but the 49ers never planned for him to be a starter. Jon Baldwin, acquired from the Chiefs in the Jenkins trade, can only improve the dynamic in the short term after Jenkins failed to factor.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid said his team felt comfortable with Jenkins after consulting with quarterback Alex Smith and assistant head coach/receivers David Culley. Smith played with Jenkins in San Francisco. Culley ran Jenkins through a workout before the 2012 draft. Reid said the Chiefs liked Jenkins' speed, hands and smarts.

"Alex was very positive about it," Reid told reporters in Kansas City.

Reid's comments regarding Avery and Baldwin might also be of interest:

  • On Avery: "We know that A.J. is going to have to come in here and learn, so we had to feel comfortable that Donnie was a legitimate starter, and we felt that. We felt that when we brought him here and since he’s been here, that he could be a quality starter on our football team. Donnie has tremendous speed, and he’s got a lot of experience and he's shown in this offense that he can do some nice things."

  • On Baldwin: "I'll always take responsibility for putting the guys in a good position to get them open and for the time that Jon was here, he did nothing but work his tail off for me. I’m not going that direction. I wish I could have helped get him open a little more than we did. ... This presented itself. I think it's good for Jon. They lost a big, powerful receiver, Crabtree, and Jon fits in that role. We needed extra kick in there and we'll see if A.J. can give us a little extra speed."

While Baldwin's 6-foot-4 and 230-pound frame surely appealed to the 49ers, I don't think they necessarily went into the trade seeking a receiver more closely matching Crabtree's physical dimensions. More likely, they were cutting their losses with Jenkins and figured Baldwin, a first-round choice in 2011, would be better than any other receiver the team was likely to receive in a trade. The fact that Baldwin has excellent size factored into their thinking, too, particularly after the smaller Jenkins struggled getting separation against physical corners. But the 49ers knew about Jenkins' size when they drafted him.

"He was the best player available when we picked," general manager Trent Baalke said on draft day 2012. "His card was above all others. That was a big reason in why we made the decision. Not only do we feel he has the skill sets we're looking for -- explosive playmaking ability -- but like we've always talked, he's our kind of guy. He's a football guy. He loves the game. He's very passionate. He lives for the games. He lives in the building. He loves the game. It was an easy decision when it came time to make the pick."

Chart note: I did not include the Seahawks' Jameson Konz because he was drafted more as a utility player than as a receiver, and he has changed positions more than once.

A look at the Arizona Cardinals' offseason to this point ...

What went right: Carson Palmer became available by trade and the Cardinals were able to acquire him for late-round draft considerations, instantly upgrading the one area where Arizona had to upgrade the most. ... Arizona had its choice of offensive guards in the draft after the teams selecting ahead of the Cardinals focused on offensive tackles and pass-rushers. Guard was the team's primary need on the offensive line. ... General manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians won larger coaching and scouting staffs while also firming up plans to build an indoor practice facility. ... The Cardinals emerged from the draft with nine selections, their highest total since 2001. ... Keim and Arians gained long-term roster flexibility by clearing out unwieldy contracts and adding younger veteran players on short-term, cap-friendly deals. ... Karlos Dansby remained available at a reasonable price when the Cardinals needed options at linebacker.

What went wrong: Andy Reid accepted the Kansas City Chiefs' coaching offer without visiting Arizona after Cardinals president Michael Bidwill had expressed interest in Reid as a candidate to succeed Ken Whisenhunt ... The NFL has levied a four-game suspension against linebacker Daryl Washington. Authorities subsequently filed assault charges against Washington for his role in a domestic dispute. ... Rules preventing coaches and players from discussing football early in the offseason prevented Arians from getting a feel for Kevin Kolb in time for the sides to work out a new contract. The team might have released Kolb anyway, but Arians would have liked an opportunity to consider the Kolb option in greater depth. ... The team could not get trade value for Brian Hoyer.

The bottom line: The Cardinals are better at quarterback. They are younger throughout their roster. They are in position to improve.

Your turn: Any significant omissions here?
The St. Louis Rams' Danny Amendola, like Wes Welker of New England, is a cat-quick slot receiver from Texas Tech with experience in Josh McDaniels' offense.

Neither receiver has a contract for the 2013 season. Neither was named his team's franchise player. Both could become unrestricted free agents March 12.

McDaniels' presence in New England as the Patriots' offensive coordinator would seem to make Amendola a viable fallback option for the team if Welker were to leave in free agency. As Mike Reiss of wrote Monday, there were increasingly reasons to think Welker and the Patriots would reach agreement before the signing period opens. But with ESPN's Adam Schefter reporting Wednesday that Welker planned to test the market, it's good to remember that there are no guarantees.

If Welker were to re-sign with the Patriots, where would Amendola fit beyond New England or St. Louis? Would any team value him more than the Rams would value him?

Those aren't easy questions to answer. Amendola, like Rams teammate and fellow free-agent candidate Brandon Gibson, was with Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles before coming to the Rams. Before that, Amendola was with Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys in 2008, when Garrett was offensive coordinator.

Sometimes those past connections come into play when a player reaches free agency. Reid is the new head coach in Kansas City. Garrett fills the same role in Dallas. Reid's receivers coach, David Culley, is the same one he had in Philadelphia when Amendola was there in 2009.

But even if Amendola's ties to those teams' coaches were relevant, neither Kansas City nor Dallas appears to have a pressing need for a slot receiver. The Chiefs' Dexter McCluster and Tony Moeaki combined for 62 receptions from the slot last season, according to game charting from ESPN Stats & Information. The Cowboys' Miles Austin and Jason Witten combined for 83 slot receptions.

There could be other suitors, of course. There are other connections, too.

Amendola's offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, Marty Mornhinweg, has the same role with the New York Jets. One of his former offensive coordinators in St. Louis, Pat Shurmur, has the same job with the Eagles.

Again, though, does either team have a pressing need? Jeremy Kerley caught 43 passes for 612 yards from the slot for the Jets last season. Jason Avant had 50 catches for 609 yards from the slot for Philadelphia.

With Amendola coming off two injury-shortened seasons, the Rams should have a better shot at keeping him without overpaying, particularly if Welker re-signs. That would be good for St. Louis given the value Amendola has provided on third down in particular.

"He has great quickness in a short area and when you talk about a smaller guy, he has that great ability to create some separation," McDaniels said of Amendola in 2011, when he was the Rams' offensive coordinator. "You gotta be really tough, you gotta be able to create some separation quick because you don't have all day to run a 5-yard route sometimes. You gotta get open. He does that and he has great hands and he’s really tough. He is everything you want in that regard."

Inside Slant: Alex Smith vs. Matt Cassel

February, 27, 2013
Alex Smith, Tom Brady and the NFL scouting combine played starring roles in the Inside Slant podcast Wednesday.

Smith's unofficial trade from San Francisco to Kansas City invited comparisons between Smith and recent Chiefs starting quarterback Matt Cassel. Smith was much better than Cassel during the 2012 season. He has much better traditional passing stats over the past two seasons. But as the chart shows, Cassel and Smith have identical Total QBR scores over the past five years. They were at 46.6. All starting quarterbacks were at 53.0 over that period.

Cassel was slightly ahead of Smith, 46.4 to 45.8, when only starts were considered.

Smith's replacement in San Francisco, Colin Kaepernick, ranks second to Peyton Manning at 77.8 among starting quarterbacks with at least seven starts since 2008. Aaron Rodgers is third, Tom Brady fourth and Drew Brees fifth.

The 49ers felt good enough about Kaepernick after seven regular-season starts and three playoff games to make the move away from Smith permanent. They're reportedly getting the Chiefs' 2013 second-round draft choice and a 2014 pick as compensation. That's a very good deal for the 49ers, in my view. They wanted Smith off their roster before he received a bonus of $1 million on April 1, at which point his $7.5 million salary would have become guaranteed.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, weren't targeting the Smith who struggled with injuries and constant coordinator turnover years ago. They hope they're getting the Smith who ranked among the NFL's better quarterbacks recently, especially last season.

The second chart shows why Smith could be appealing as an alternative to Cassel. He led the NFL in completion percentage (70.2), ranked seventh in Total QBR (70.1) and was third in NFL passer rating (104.1). He also had a 19-5-1 starting record over the past two seasons.

However, Smith's strong numbers in 2012 reflected his abilities on early downs. His third-down Total QBR (33.1) trailed Cassel's (44.5). It's fair to wonder whether Smith will produce as well overall on a weaker team that could face predictable passing situations more frequently. Smith was at his best last season changing plays and keeping defenses off-balance. That's tougher to do when the defense knows a pass is coming.

NFC West blogger Kevin Seifert and I discussed these possibilities during the podcast.

Donovan McNabb can provide one point of reference. He succeeded under Chiefs coach Andy Reid as a high draft choice in Philadelphia. McNabb benefited from the organizational continuity Reid and the Eagles provided for more than a decade. Smith never benefited from that type of environment until the past couple seasons. Perhaps he can pick up in Kansas City where he left off in San Francisco.

The Chiefs certainly hope that will be the case.

Alex Smith to Chiefs: Thoughts on trade

February, 27, 2013
Quick thoughts after the San Francisco 49ers reached agreement on a trade sending quarterback Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs:
  • Credit Smith: Teams covet quarterbacks, but they haven't been shelling out huge money for unproven ones since the Kevin Kolb deal in Arizona. Matt Flynngot far less last offseason, for example. The success Smith has enjoyed the past two seasons, particularly in 2012, made him more appealing than the typical quarterback to hit the trade market. The 49ers went 19-5-1 with Smith starting over the past two seasons. Go ahead and credit the 49ers' coaching staff, but also realize the Chiefs' staff, led by Andy Reid, knows a little about quarterbacks, as well.
  • Weak draft: Draft analysts have been lamenting the absence of top quarterback prospects in the 2013 draft. The Chiefs, with the first overall choice, might agree. They could still draft a quarterback early, but moving to acquire Smith right after the combine affirms perceptions about the quarterbacks in the next rookie class and their readiness.
  • Compensation: Initial reports suggest the 49ers are getting the 34th overall choice and a 2014 conditional pick from Kansas City. That would be an outstanding deal from the 49ers' perspective. Is that the full deal? We do not know whether the Chiefs were able to get any draft compensation back from San Francisco. The fact that Kansas City picks so high in the second round enhances the value for San Francisco, which also picks 31st. Stay tuned.
  • Cap savings: This trade means the 49ers will not have to pay a $1 million bonus or $7.5 million salary to Smith for 2013. His projected $8.5 million cap number for 2013 vanishes from the books. That should give the 49ers greater flexibility to sign other players. Of course, San Francisco is now in the market for a backup quarterback, but even a veteran will cost much less than Smith was going to cost. Starter Colin Kaepernick's contract counts $1.4 million against the cap, far below average even for backups.
  • Not on schedule: The 49ers do not play the Chiefs this season. The Chiefs do not play any NFC West teams. Kansas City's opponents comprise the other AFC West teams, plus Houston, Indianapolis, Dallas, the New York Giants, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Philadelphia, Washington and Buffalo.
  • Chiefs on speed dial: It's been a while since the 49ers and Chiefs collaborated on quarterback trades involving Joe Montana and Steve Bono. Still, we can add Smith's name to the list of quarterbacks San Francisco has traded to Kansas City.
  • The right thing: The 49ers, of course, had to look out for their own interests in dealing Smith. Still, it's good to see them trading him to a team with a solid offensive-minded coach, an established running back, potential on the offensive line and (if re-signed) a top receiver in Dwayne Bowe. Smith is falling into a relatively favorable situation. That should feel right for the 49ers, who clearly appreciated what Smith had given to the organization.
  • No Arizona: News broke this week that Arizona was also interested in Smith. The 49ers weren't going to make a deal in the division, most likely. The Cardinals knew that. They weren't counting on Smith. Their search for quarterback answers continues.

Setting a price for 49ers' Alex Smith

February, 25, 2013

Recent updates regarding Alex Smith's trade status do not include a couple key details: which team would acquire the San Francisco 49ers quarterback and at what price.

The Kansas City Chiefs have been mentioned consistently as a potential trade partner. That provides us with a starting point for projecting value.

Andy Reid is the Chiefs' new head coach. John Dorsey is their new general manager. Both were previously with organizations that participated in quarterback trades.

In 2011, Reid's Philadelphia Eagles sent Kevin Kolb to Arizona for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a 2012 second-round draft choice.

In 2010, the Eagles sent quarterback Donovan McNabb to Washington for a 2010 second-round choice and a 2011 fourth-rounder.

In 2004, the Eagles traded A.J. Feeley to Miami for a 2005 second-round choice.

Those trades involved Reid's team parting with a quarterback. The Eagles did not acquire prominent quarterbacks by trade during his tenure with the team.

Those trades suggest Reid might value a viable quarterback as being worth a second-round choice, at least.

Other factors can affect the price, of course. In this case, the 49ers face an April 1 deadline for paying a $1 million bonus to Smith and guaranteeing his $7.5 million salary for 2013. That could make the 49ers a little more eager to complete a deal. It could empower the Chiefs or other teams to wait out San Francisco. However, teams serious about acquiring quarterbacks might prefer getting a deal done to risking the player for what could be a small gain in the end.

Dorsey, meanwhile, was with the Green Bay Packers for most of the past two decades. He also spent a short time with Seattle under Mike Holmgren. Dorsey was with the Packers when Green Bay traded quarterbacks Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck and Aaron Brooks.

In 1995, the Packers got third- and fifth-round picks from Jacksonville for Brunell.

In 2001, the Packers sent Hasselbeck and the 17th overall choice in the draft to Seattle for the 10th overall choice and a third-round pick. Seattle spent the equivalent of a high second-round choice for Hasselbeck.

The 2000 trade involving Brooks netted a 2001 third-round choice from New Orleans. The teams also traded additional players. Green Bay landed linebacker K.D. Williams. The Saints got tight end Lamont Hall.

Based on precedent, the 49ers should be looking to get a second- or third-round choice from the Chiefs for Smith, should they do a deal with Kansas City.

San Francisco already owns a league-high 11 choices in the 2013 draft. The team figures to gain compensatory choices as well.

For those reasons, and because Smith has a mixed record in the NFL, a deal involving a conditional choice could make the most sense. In that case, the 49ers would be looking at a higher 2014 choice if Smith played well for his new team.

Which new coaches NFC West will face

January, 16, 2013
NFL teams have filled six of eight head-coaching vacancies now that Chip Kelly has landed in Philadelphia as the Eagles' replacement for Andy Reid.

A quick run through NFC West opponents for 2013 shows relatively few games against teams with first-year head coaches.

Every team in the division faces Jacksonville. That could be interesting if Jaguars general manager David Caldwell hires San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, his former college teammate and roommate.

Arizona faces the Eagles on the road this season. San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis will of course face the Cardinals, who have yet to hire a replacement for Ken Whisenhunt.

Buffalo (Doug Marrone), Chicago (Marc Trestman), Cleveland (Rob Chudzinski), Kansas City (Andy Reid), Philadelphia (Kelly) and San Diego (Mike McCoy) have hired offensive-minded head coaches. I think the Cardinals have intended to do the same. And if Roman emerges as the choice in Jacksonville, there's strong potential for all eight first-year coaches coming from the offensive side of the ball.

Ranking the remaining coaching vacancies

January, 16, 2013
The Chicago Bears' hiring of Marc Trestman as head coach leaves Arizona, Philadelphia and Jacksonville as the final three teams with vacancies heading toward the 2013 season.

Trestman was not a known candidate for any other job. His rather curious hiring should not affect the Cardinals in any way.

A quick look at the known candidates for the Cardinals, Eagles and Jaguars:
  • Arizona: Offensive coordinators Darell Bevell (Seattle), Jay Gruden (Cincinnati) and Todd Haley (Pittsburgh) have reportedly interviewed or will interview. Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton has already interviewed and remains on staff. Andy Reid and Mike McCoy were candidates before taking jobs elsewhere.
  • Eagles: The Eagles have interviewed and/or pursued Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley (Seattle), former Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, Gruden, McCoy, Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, Falcons special-teams coordinator Mike Armstrong, Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, Oregon coach Chip Kelly, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, and then-Syracuse coach Doug Marrone. Did I miss anyone? Phil Sheridan of the Philadelphia Inquirer joked that the Eagles have interviewed "every living male with a visor" to this point.
  • Jaguars: Bradley headed from his Eagles interview to meet with the Jaguars on Wednesday. Bevell and St. Louis Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer also interviewed. Schottenheimer was a finalist for the job one year ago, but the Jaguars hired Mike Mularkey. Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker interviewed. San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman would be a logical candidate for the job given his success with the 49ers and close ties to new Jaguars general manager David Caldwell, Roman's former college teammate and roommate. The Jaguars were not yet conducting their coaching search when Roman was available for interviews during the window provided before divisional-round games. He remains off-limits during Championship Game week. Armstrong, the Falcons' special-teams coach, has also been mentioned as a candidate. AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky sizes up the field.

The chart is an expanded version of previous ones I've produced, designed to show which openings might be most appealing from candidates' perspective. I would order them Philadelphia, Arizona and Jacksonville based on a range of factors, including quarterbacks and ownership.

Mike McCoy's expected hiring by the San Diego Chargers leaves the Arizona Cardinals ... where?

There is no way to know the answer to that question.

First, we do not know for sure what the Cardinals' plans are for naming a head coach. Second, we do not know whether McCoy will become a better head coach than the person Arizona winds up hiring in the end.

We do know Cardinals president Michael Bidwill announced intentions to interview Andy Reid, only to have Reid accept the Kansas City Chiefs' offer without visiting Arizona. We know reports suggested the Cardinals sought a second interview with McCoy, only to have McCoy cancel that interview after accepting the Chargers' offer.

So, from outside appearances, the Cardinals appear to be struggling in their search for Ken Whisenhunt's replacement. They do have an insurance policy in defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Missing out on Reid and McCoy would hurt more if Horton also appeared likely to land a head coaching job elsewhere. Horton appears more likely to stay, however.

In my view, firing Whisenhunt made sense if the Cardinals were in position to move decisively for a superior candidate. They have not done that to this point. Still, it's tough to render a verdict on the process before the Cardinals have made a hire. And even when they do make a hire, we won't immediately know whether they've made a good one.

Before hiring Whisenhunt in 2007, the Cardinals reportedly conducted second interviews with a group featuring Mike Sherman, Norm Chow, Cam Cameron and Ron Rivera. Whisenhunt was also a candidate to coach the Pittsburgh Steelers at that time.

Horton, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden have interviewed with the Cardinals this offseason. They appear to be the leading candidates.

No coach is going to succeed in Arizona without upgrading the quarterback situation. Whisenhunt proved he could win with a top quarterback. He lost his job because the quarterbacks he helped acquire and develop following Kurt Warner's retirement either could not stay healthy (Kevin Kolb) or struggled (John Skelton, Ryan Lindley) or both (Kolb, to varying degrees).

The other teams seeking head coaches generally have superior quarterback situations. That makes those teams more attractive to coaching candidates. If the Cardinals wind up settling for a lesser candidate, then they would have been better off keeping Whisenhunt, shuffling the offensive staff and making another run at finding the team's next quarterback.
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley is interviewing for the head coaching job with the Arizona Cardinals.

Art Rooney II, president of the Steelers, confirmed this information on the record, according to longtime Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette. The sourcing is rock solid. The Steelers would know if one of their assistant coaches were interviewing elsewhere.

But at the nearly the same time, Haley's agent, Jerome Stanley, is on the record telling's Ian Rapoport that Haley is not interviewing for the Cardinals' job. Stanley would certainly know whether his own client were interviewing with the Cardinals.

What is going on here? Those new to this game might want to check out the piece I put together after Andy Reid emerged as the Cardinals' likely next head coach (shortly before he became the Kansas City Chiefs' head coach).

In Haley's case, previous reports suggested his interest in the Cardinals' coaching job was tempered by a desire to remain on solid footing with the Steelers following an eventful first season with the team. Haley and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had appeared at odds during the season. The Steelers missed the playoffs. The situation was a bit sensitive. Haley wouldn't want people to think he had one foot out the door. But he also would love to become a head coach again. Those opportunities can be fleeting.

Haley's agent has his client's interests in mind. Rooney is much less invested in how the Haley story is perceived. I'd be surprised if Haley weren't interviewing or scheduled to interview with the Cardinals based on what we know.
A few thoughts on each of the known candidates for the Arizona Cardinals head coaching vacancy:
  • Andy Reid: Hiring Reid would have been the safest move for several reasons. Reid has 130 regular-season victories and a Super Bowl appearance, so he's proven. Reid could have assembled an experienced staff quickly. Arizona would have won the hiring-day news conference had Reid taken the job. Finding the next up-and-coming coach is tougher than identifying the established ones. Reid was the safest choice, but was he the best one? He favors a relatively traditional West Coast offense. Most of the league appears to be heading in another direction.
  • Ray Horton: The Cardinals' defensive coordinator presumably remains in consideration while the team interviews other candidates. On-field results suggest he's done a very good job coordinating the Cardinals' defense. Some have hinted that Horton might be able to land Norv Turner as offensive coordinator, but it's unclear whether that is true. Horton has said he would hire someone to run the defense if Arizona promoted him to head coach. That would free up Horton to focus on being a head coach, but a trade-off could be weakening the one area where Horton could make the Cardinals strongest, on defense.
  • Mike McCoy: The Denver Broncos offensive coordinator will presumably remain occupied by the playoffs for as long as his current team remains in contention. He gets credit for successfully adapting the Broncos offense to Tim Tebow last season and Peyton Manning this season. McCoy previously spent most of his career with Carolina. The Panthers ranked near or below the NFL averages in third-down conversion rate, touchdowns, points per drive and NFL passer rating from 2004 through 2008, the years when McCoy coached quarterbacks or coordinated the passing game. McCoy is known for getting along well with others. He had a positive working relationship with Jake Delhomme and was instrumental behind the scenes in relating to mercurial wide receiver Steve Smith.
  • Jay Gruden: Gruden just finished his second season as the Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator. He played quarterback in college and should have a good feel for the position, a plus for the Cardinals as they try to improve behind center. Gruden's work with 2011 draft choice Andy Dalton works in Gruden's favor. Gruden, 45, had a winning record as a head coach in the Arena League. Dalton's postseason struggles (zero touchdowns, four interceptions) and overall ineffectiveness on third down may or may not reflect on Gruden. Dalton ranked 36th out of 36 qualifying quarterbacks in Total QBR on third down this season (10.5). Even Mark Sanchez was better (16.4). Arizona's Ryan Lindley (4.1) and John Skelton (1.4) were worse than Dalton, but neither played enough to qualify in the rankings. They were 38th and 39th, respectively, in third-down QBR among players with at least 50 pass attempts. Kevin Kolb was 33rd at 19.2.
  • Todd Haley: Haley wants the job, but he has been reluctant to embrace the process without first knowing how serious the Cardinals are about hiring him. The Cardinals have turned over much of their offensive roster since Haley left his job as the team's offensive coordinator following the 2008 season. Sure, Haley knows Larry Fitzgerald, but that isn't reason enough to hire a head coach. The Cardinals would have to feel Haley could help them identify talented quarterbacks and then develop them quickly. Haley was Kansas City's head coach when Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel tossed 27 touchdown passes with seven interceptions in 2010. The team finished 10-6. Cassel, despite a 93.0 NFL passer rating that year, graded out as merely average that season in Total QBR (52.2), however, and he no longer projects as a starter. That might actually reflect positively on Haley. Perhaps he was able to get a winning season from Cassel while other coaches could not. But as some have mentioned, Charlie Weis could have played a more prominent role. He was the Chiefs' offensive coordinator in 2010.

More to come as long as the wireless remains functional on my 5-hour, 41-minute flight from Washington, D.C., to Seattle.

ESPN's Adam Schefter offers thoughts in the video above regarding Andy Reid's scheduled interview with the Arizona Cardinals.

Reid ranks fifth in victories among active head coaches. Bill Belichick, Mike Shanahan, Tom Coughlin and Jeff Fisher rank ahead of him.
Andy Reid is the leading candidate to coach the Arizona Cardinals even though some say the team hasn't spoken with him about the job just yet.

Welcome to NFL power plays at the highest level.

I do not know specifically what is going on between the Cardinals and Reid. The pattern is a familiar one, however.

High-profile coaches benefit when information about a deal being imminent gets out before a deal is completed. The news creates expectations, putting pressure on teams to close deals. Coaches gain leverage in the process.

Reid's agent, Bob LaMonte, knows the business as well or better than anyone. He represents a long list of NFL head coaches and high-profile assistants.

NFC West followers might recall LaMonte brokering the deal that brought another client, Mike Holmgren, to Seattle in 1999. Back then, only hours had passed following Holmgren's final game with Green Bay when news broke that an eight-year, $32 million deal with Seattle was imminent.

There were the usual denials, as I recall. The team emphasized the importance of process. No one wanted there to be any appearance of a deal being in the works prematurely. Several days passed before the Seahawks announced Holmgren's hiring. The deal was pretty much as it had been advertised: eight years and $32 million.

Arizona also must pay attention to process. The Cardinals and every team must comply with the Rooney Rule requiring interviews with minority candidates.

Signs do point to Reid's hiring in Arizona as the most likely scenario.

First, team president Michael Bidwill said the Cardinals expected to interview Reid. Bidwill made this announcement publicly hours after the team fired coach Ken Whisenhunt. A team president would not make such an announcement publicly without having an interview lined up. Even if the Cardinals have not yet spoken to Reid, they obviously have made contact with his agent. That suggests all parties agree the fit could be right.

Second, the Cardinals presumably would not fire a good coach such as Whisenhunt without knowing they could hire someone as good or better. Reid's credentials qualify him as someone as good or better.

Finally, if the Cardinals sought as their first choice to name defensive coordinator Ray Horton as head coach, they presumably could have closed that deal already. There is no deal with Horton yet.

Reid is obviously in play in Arizona. Now we'll wait to see how things play out.

A few thoughts on Andy Reid's potential hiring as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, a move ESPN's Adam Schefter reports is close to happening:
  • Firing Ken Whisenhunt after six seasons wouldn't make sense in the absence of a strong alternative. Reid would be a strong alternative. He would bring credibility to any organization. His time was up in Philadelphia, but he remains relatively young at age 54. This hiring would make sense. The team would not be taking a step down from Whisenhunt even though Whisenhunt's Cardinals were riding a three-game winning streak against Reid's Eagles, counting playoffs.
  • I think Arizona could instantly become a playoff contender by hiring Reid, re-signing Kevin Kolb at a reduced rate, drafting a quarterback and signing Michael Vick as a short-term starter. Reid, Vick and Larry Fitzgerald would combine to give the Cardinals more star power than they have had since Kurt Warner was behind center.
  • Reid's background is on offense. Hiring him as head coach would allow the team to keep Ray Horton as defensive coordinator provided Horton doesn't get a head coaching job elsewhere. The Cardinals could do much, much worse than having a Reid-Horton coaching combination.
  • Reid had control over personnel in Philadelphia. I'm assuming he would not take a job with the Cardinals without having significant personnel control. The Eagles usually had a good feel for when to part with veteran players. Reid presumably informed the team's judgment in that area. If Reid takes the Arizona job, former Eagles and Cleveland Browns executive Tom Heckert would be an obvious choice as general manager. Under that setup, team president/owner Michael Bidwill would keep a low profile.
  • The Eagles were a model franchise during Reid's tenure. Turning the Cardinals into Philly West sounds like an upgrade.
  • The Cardinals have never had a television blackout for a game at University of Phoenix Stadium. That streak would have been in jeopardy, in my view, had the team stayed the course after finishing 5-11 this season. Reid would get fans excited. Adding Vick would generate national buzz in the short term. For all his struggles recently, Vick was exponentially better than the quarterbacks playing for Arizona most of this season.
  • There would be other options at quarterback. The fact that Reid was with Vick and Kolb in Philadelphia doesn't necessarily mean he would want to proceed with either one in Arizona. He unloaded Kolb to the Cardinals, after all. Vick and Kolb would know the offense, at least. They would represent a significant upgrade from Ryan Lindley, John Skelton and Brian Hoyer.
  • An NFC West with Reid, Jim Harbaugh, Pete Carroll and Jeff Fisher sounds good to me. Call it a Mt. Rushmore of coaches still seeking Super Bowl rings.

Happy New Year, everybody.

A few notes on this first day of 2013:
  • The Arizona Cardinals said they plan to interview Andy Reid, Ray Horton and Mike McCoy as potential replacements for Ken Whisenhunt;
  • Steve Keim is a candidate to replace fired Cardinals general manager Rod Graves;
  • Tom Gamble, right-hand man to San Francisco 49ers GM Trent Baalke, will interview for jobs with Jacksonville and the New York Jets;
  • Greg Roman, the 49ers' offensive coordinator, could be a head-coaching candidate for the Philadelphia Eagles;
  • Brandon Jacobs' release from the 49ers was a formality. He wasn't going to play again this season anyway;
  • Even though the Associated Press' award announcements are weeks away, voting closes Thursday. That means the playoff game featuring Russell Wilson's Seattle Seahawks and Robert Griffin III's Washington Redskins won't affect offensive rookie of the year balloting;
  • Seattle welcomed back starting cornerback Brandon Browner from a four-game suspension after losing another corner, Walter Thurmond, to injured reserve;
  • ESPN's final Power Rankings of the season are coming later Tuesday.