NFC West: Frank Reich
The chart lists the team's coaches from last season and those the team announced as having joined Bruce Arians' new staff. Reports have listed other coaches expected to join the staff, but sometimes plans change. Those hires are not yet official. Mike Caldwell (linebackers) and Amos Jones (special teams) are two potential candidates.
Bold lettering in the chart shows which 2012 Cardinals assistants remain with the team until further notice. Some could remain as part of Arians' staff. None has been released from his contract.
General manager Steve Keim has said he expects the new staff to place heavy emphasis on the offensive and defensive lines. I'll be watching to see whether the Cardinals give Arians additional resources. Arizona had fewer assistants than other NFC West teams employed last season.
The ballot I submitted featured five performances for franchises currently aligned in the NFC West. It included three performances for the San Francisco 49ers and three for the Washington Redskins. There were two from Kurt Warner, including one each from his years with St. Louis and Arizona. All 15 were for offensive players, a disparity I couldn't reconcile.
Several worthy performances just missed the cut. You'll find most of them accounted for in the top 25.
Keith Lincoln's 329-yard game (206 rushing, 123 receiving) ranked seventh on my ballot, 13 spots higher than it ranked in the top 25. This performance wasn't on my ballot initially because Lincoln played for the then-AFL San Diego Chargers. I gave it a prominent spot when told this performance was eligible because it appeared in the NFL record book.
All for now. Here's hoping this Saturday ranks among your top five this month.
"Alex Smith and Sam Bradford seem to be the least developed with having multiple offensive coordinators and no great vets to learn behind," he writes. "Kevin Kolb had a good upbringing in Philadelphia and Arizona has shown an ability to handle QBs, but Flynn had the benefit of learning in the Green Bay system. Learning behind Aaron Rodgers and Mike McCarthy will give him an advantage, assuming he wins the starting job. Thoughts?"
Mike Sando: Flynn's background with McCarthy and the Packers appealed to the Seahawks. McCarthy, with nothing more than a compensatory draft choice to gain from advocating for Flynn in free agency, gave glowing reviews in conversations with the Seahawks. Those conversations appear more credible based on Seahawks general manager John Schneider's long association and friendship with McCarthy.
"We really respect the job that they’ve done with their offense and their quarterbacking and Matt is a beneficiary of that, so therefore we are also," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said after signing Flynn in March. "His process to learn as Aaron Rodgers has learned has really been helpful to him. There are a lot of similarities in their style of movement and decision-making, play and conscience that I think helps us."
That doesn't necessarily mean Flynn will be the "most developed" quarterback in the division. A few thoughts on what the other NFC West quarterbacks have going for them:
- Smith (49ers): Jim Harbaugh should know the position better than any head coach in the division. Smith has more experience than any quarterback in the division. Harbaugh and Smith meshed well last season. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman and quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst round out what looks like a solid support group. Smith has finally had time this offseason to work on his mechanics. He's getting a second season in the offense. Spending one season with McCarthy and a second with Norv Turner probably counts for something, too, despite the passage of time.
- Kolb (Cardinals): Kolb did not practice with the Cardinals until 38 days before the 2011 opener. That made it tough for Kolb to learn a new system and settle into the role. Injuries derailed Kolb once he finally did get experience in the system. The Cardinals fired quarterbacks coach Chris Miller and promoted receivers coach John McNulty to the position. Arizona valued McNulty enough to block Tampa Bay from pursuing him as its offensive coordinator. The team's new receivers coach, Frank Reich, was an NFL quarterback for 14 seasons. What does it all mean? It's a little early to tell.
- Bradford (Rams): New coordinator Brian Schottenheimer was with Mark Sanchez previously. One line of thinking says Schottenheimer led Sanchez as far as Sanchez could go, then took the fall when Sanchez failed to carry more of the offensive load. Another line of thinking says Schottenheimer couldn't get Sanchez past a certain point. Bradford is on his third coordinator in as many seasons. The Rams went through 2011 without a quarterbacks coach. The new quarterbacks coach, Frank Cignetti, coached the 49ers' Smith under coordinator Jim Hostler in 2007. That was one of the worst offensive seasons in 49ers history. Hostler took the blame. It's tough to fault Cignetti in that context, but also tough to offer a strong endorsement without seeing results.
Circling back to the original question, we could make a case that Flynn should be the most developed quarterback in the division.
Other factors go into success, of course. Bradford and Smith were No. 1 overall choices, indicating that teams thought they were more talented than Flynn, a seventh-rounder who drew moderate interest in free agency this offseason. And if the Seahawks were convinced Flynn were the answer, they would have had less reason to use a third-round choice for a quarterback after signing Flynn.
I do think Flynn's background with the Packers was crucial for the Seahawks. Schneider's first-hand knowledge of Green Bay's quarterback training techniques was a factor.
- The Rams are not listing suspended defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on their staff. They did not mention him in the news release. They did not list a defensive coordinator. Coach Jeff Fisher and assistant head coach Dave McGinnis will presumably take the lead. Secondary coach Chuck Cecil has also been a coordinator.
- Williams' son, Blake, coaches the Rams' linebackers.
- The Cardinals have 3-4 fewer assistants than the other teams in the division. I've noticed that to be the case in recent seasons. Staff sizes can vary. Arizona has one more than the NFL listed for New England heading into the most recent Super Bowl.
- Every team in the division has an assistant head coach. Two serve as offensive line coaches. Another coaches special teams. Assistant head coaches might earn more money than they otherwise would, but the title does not distinguish them from other assistants in relation to hiring protocol. The title affords no additional protections against losing an assistant to another team, in other words.
- Paul Boudreau is the Rams' offensive line coach. His son, also named Paul, is assistant special teams coach. They are not Paul Sr. and Paul Jr., however. It's not yet clear how the Rams intend to differentiate between the two. Middle initials?
- Niners offensive assistant Michael Christianson is also coordinator of football technology.
The chart lists full-time assistants, not interns or administrative assistants. Strength-and-conditioning coaches aren't involved in football strategy, but I have listed them.
"The Seattle Seahawks continue to try to arrange a meeting with Manning," the report reads, citing sources, "but so far they have been unable to do so."
The report also indicates that the Miami Dolphins do not appear as high on Manning's list as the Cardinals and Broncos.
This would be fantastic news for Arizona and consistent with what the agent for Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt indicated last week.
"I think they have a tremendous shot," agent Eric Metz said, "and I'd be very surprised if they didn’t pull it off."
The Cardinals might have also positioned themselves favorably when they hired Manning's former position coach in Indianapolis, Frank Reich, to coach their receivers. They can also offer Larry Fitzgerald, arguably the NFL's top receiver and a player known for the all-out commitment to excellence that has set apart Manning over the years.
Seattle obviously feels as though it could make a compelling case for Manning if given the chance. But the team doesn't have the connections to Manning that Denver and Arizona can offer. The Broncos' executive vice president, John Elway, can connect with Manning on a quarterback-to-quarterback level. The Cardinals have Reich and Fitzgerald.
Seattle has ... what?
Losing out on Manning would hurt the Seahawks on its own. Watching him sign with a division rival would hurt quite a bit more.
Full chat transcript here. Highlights below.
Roland from Winnipeg asks whether the St. Louis Rams would pursue Mike Wallace in restricted free agency if they traded down in the draft and did not sign Vincent Jackson.
Mike Sando: That would be a lot to give up. Wallace would have to get a fat contract. He would be a terrific addition, but how badly would he want to play for a rebuilding team at this point? The money would have to be off the charts, and then the Rams would be parting with such a high pick. The Steelers drafted Wallace in the third round. The Rams need to draft their own Wallaces at some point. That is why they hired Les Snead. He needs to find those types of players.
Northwest Guy from Gig Harbor, Wash., asks for my thoughts on the Marshawn Lynch contract with Seattle. He thinks it favors the team.
Mike Sando: The franchise tag hung over his deal and compromised his bargaining position. That allowed the Seahawks to sign him at a reasonable rate. He was never going to hit the market. He got what he could get, which means he got what he was worth under the circumstances.
Trev from Portland, Ore., says the Cardinals are best positioned land Manning because for reasons consisting of an indoor stadium, grass field, weather, receivers, running backs, staff (former Colts assistant Frank Reich), holding a mid-range draft pick available for a quality offensive tackle and having an extra 15 days for training camp in advance of the Hall of Fame game.
Mike Sando: You make good points. The mid-range draft choice isn't going to be a selling point, in my view. The Hall of Fame game does buy extra practice time, which Manning would value. I don't think 15 extra days of work would swing the deal, but if things did come together overall, that would be a plus. This division would get fun in a hurry with Manning playing for one of its teams, particularly with the 49ers deciding to stay the course.
Chris from Fairfield, Calif., realized in retrospect that San Francisco knew what it was doing when it opted to sign Carlos Rogers instead of Nnamdi Asomugha last offseason. He is now inclined to trust the 49ers as they appear likely to stick with Smith over Manning.
Mike Sando: The 49ers built up what Jim Harbaugh called a lot of "equity" with Alex Smith and other players. Bringing in Manning would change the entire team dynamic, a dynamic the 49ers like very much. There is a risk in not going after him, but the 49ers do not see the payoff as worth the risk. They were already in the NFC Championship Game, a play or two away from the Super Bowl. They feel as though they have a good chance to remain on a similar level if they stay the course. Betting big on Manning introduces a level of risk that does not exist in their minds if they stay the course. I see both sides of it. Just not sure the fit with Manning and Jim Harbaugh would be all that great, either.
Thanks to @dubbacee and others for sending a reminder to post the chat highlights and link to the full transcript. That got away from me Thursday.
The Dolphins chased hard after Jim Harbaugh a year ago, media reports suggested, but Harbaugh went to the San Francisco 49ers. More recently, the Dolphins went after Jeff Fisher with great vigor, only to watch Fisher go to the St. Louis Rams.
The last time the Dolphins outbid an NFC West team for a high-profile player, they acquired Brandon Marshall from Denver when Seattle was also interested.
Manning, set to be released no later than Thursday, will surely draw widespread interest. I expect Seattle and Arizona to check into Manning's health and strongly consider pursuing him. We've discussed several potential scenarios already this offseason while anticipating Manning's expected release from Indianapolis. Nothing much has changed since then.
A few considerations for each NFC West team:
- Arizona Cardinals: The team has until March 17 to decide whether to pay a $7 million bonus to Kevin Kolb or allow him to reach free agency. John Skelton is under contract and will compete for the starting job if Kolb returns. Manning would be available to sign with any team once the Colts release him, even though free agency does not begin until March 13. The window between Manning's release and March 17 gives the Cardinals time to explore their options. They can offer Manning an indoor stadium, natural grass, arguably the NFL's best receiver in Larry Fitzgerald and an improving defense. Arizona won seven of its final eight games last season to finish 8-8. Manning would have to like his chances at improving upon that mark. Concerns about the Cardinals' offensive line have some merit, but Manning doesn't need much time. He gets rid of the ball quickly. The Colts never had great lines. As a bonus, Arizona hired Manning's former position coach, Frank Reich, to coach receivers. And if Manning needed assurances about the organization or coaching staff, he could always get a scouting report from Kurt Warner, who flourished in Arizona.
- Seattle Seahawks: The team has a strong base of talent on defense. The running game finished strong last season, with Marshawn Lynch leading the league over the final nine weeks. Sidney Rice, Zach Miller and Doug Baldwin would give Manning weapons in the passing game. Miller was underutilized in the passing game last season. The team needed him in pass protection at times. Also, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson played hurt and held the ball too long. Manning would make fuller use of Miller and the other weapons. Seattle can also offer a talented left tackle if Russell Okung has better luck on the injury front. Seattle also has easily the most appealing facilities in the division. Like Arizona, Seattle can offer a low-key media atmosphere where Manning can focus on football, same as he did in Indy. Manning's neck injuries remain a concern, but Seattle can offer something on that front as well. Team physician Stan Herring serves on the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee.
- San Francisco 49ers: All signs have pointed to the 49ers re-signing Alex Smith and grooming Colin Kaepernick for the future. As long as Smith remains unsigned, however, there's at least a chance the team could go in another direction. That chance appears slim at this point, however.
- St. Louis Rams: The Rams have said they're going to build around Sam Bradford. Manning is not an option for them.
OK, NFC West community. What say you?
Mike Sando: NFL teams have, for years, tried to push unused cap space into future seasons. They previously did this by writing into players' contracts "likely to be earned" incentives that were, despite the label, very unlikely to be achieved. John Clayton explained the practice in detail back in 2004.
The new labor agreement legitimizes how teams carry over unused cap space. Teams simply tell the league how much unused cap space they would like to carry over.
Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt recently explained some of the particulars. Clayton provided numbers as they pertain to the 2012 season in this update.
Any team failing to carry over unused space might appear cheap, but carrying over the maximum would not necessarily make a team less cheap. It would not affect spending, only the amount a team could spend.
Salary-cap machinations are not always straightforward. A team could conceivably decide against carrying over unused room to accommodate late-hitting incentives, a contract option or the acceleration of guaranteed money.
Charlie from St. Louis asks whether the Rams might be wise to "secretly" make Sam Bradford available to teams intending to draft Griffin. "Don't get me wrong," Charlie writes, "I think Bradford will be a good player. But given how expensive he is, the new regime in St. Louis could make a shrewd move by starting over with Robert Griffin III."
Mike Sando: The Rams are on the record saying they will not trade Bradford. The rest of us are free to debate the merits of that stance, so here goes.
First, would such a move even be doable? I think it would be.
The Browns might logically prefer Bradford to RG3. Browns coach Pat Shurmur already has a strong background with Bradford from Shurmur's time as the Rams' offensive coordinator. As impressive as RG3 has been to this point in the process, the Browns would know with greater confidence what they were getting with Bradford, a player they know well. Bradford also has a verifiable track record in the West Coast offense Cleveland is running, a selling point for Shurmur and also for Browns president Mike Holmgren.
There would be risks. The Rams have already said Bradford is off-limits. Dangling him as trade bait would damage the new regime's relationship with Bradford if such a trade fell through. Also, Bradford's traded contract would count nearly as much against the Rams' salary cap as it counts right now.
What could the Rams get for Bradford? Could they get the fourth overall pick from Cleveland, or would they have to settle for a package worth less? That is tough to know, and pivotal to any imaginary deal.
Craig from Knoxville has a theory as to why the Cardinals did not offer more power to Todd Haley, letting Haley go to Pittsburgh. He thinks adding Haley would have made it tougher for the team to bring on another strong personality in Peyton Manning. "I know Haley and Kurt Warner were a good mix," Craig writes, "but that was because they grew together. If we signed Haley, I think that would have been negative toward Manning."
Mike Sando: Interesting point. Ultimately, I think coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn't comfortable rearranging his offensive staff and essentially demoting the current coordinator, Mike Miller. It would have been a bit awkward. The team did make a Manning-friendly move by adding Manning's former position coach, Frank Reich, as receivers coach.
Ryan from Atlanta wants to know what Ahmad Brooks' new contract with the San Francisco 49ers means for teammate and fellow outside linebacker Parys Haralson.
Mike Sando: Haralson and Brooks played on opposite sides. The plan was for Aldon Smith to take Haralson's starting job no matter what happened with Brooks. Haralson is scheduled to earn $2.45 million in base salary and $300,000 in offseason bonuses. The combined number is not prohibitive for a part-time player or backup. We can safely say Haralson's playing time will decline and his future with the team is in some question.
Fox from San Jose says New Orleans' Marques Colston and Carl Nicks could hit the market if the Saints use their franchise tag for quarterback Drew Brees. Under that scenario, he wonders whether Nicks could fit for the 49ers in free agency.
Mike Sando: Doubtful, in my view. Nicks would cost a lot of money. The 49ers drafted Daniel Kilgore with the thought Kilgore could grow into the starting role at right guard if needed. San Francisco has not been a team that overspends in free agency, at least of late. Signing Nicks would go against their recent approach.
Joey from Hawaii asks whether Brock Osweiler would be a good second-round choice for the Seahawks. Would he be better than current third-stringer Josh Portis? Or should the Seahawks keep building their roster, then do what it takes to land Matt Barkley in 2013?
Mike Sando: The Seahawks have been 7-9 twice while rebuilding. They probably aren't going to finish with a poor enough record in 2012 to position themselves for Barkley or another top quarterback. They cannot put off the decision simply because Barkley could be an option next year. Osweiler does have the mobility Seattle's Pete Carroll values in quarterbacks. Todd McShay says Osweiler is highly competitive, another must for Carroll. Based on those things, then, Osweiler might be an intriguing prospect.
Jason from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho thinks Seattle should try to acquire the second overall pick from the Rams, then shop it around. They could always take RG3 in that spot. Jason thinks Matt Flynn or Peyton Manning will go to Miami, leaving Washington and Cleveland desperate. He does not think the Seahawks can "out-Alex Smith" the 49ers with Tarvaris Jackson behind center.
Mike Sando: The Rams most likely will not trade the second overall pick to a division rival. The Seahawks most likely will not give up what it would take to get into that No. 2 spot. Those are my opinions. Why would the Rams arm a division rival with a potential franchise quarterback?
Nick from Salt Lake City asks whether teams with interest in Robert Griffin III might "call the Rams' bluff" in the 2012 draft. Instead of acquiring the No. 2 overall choice from St. Louis, these teams might trade into the third spot, figuring the Rams weren't going to take a quarterback, anyway. Nick asks whether the Rams might get more value by drafting Robert Griffin III, then trading his rights.
Mike Sando: The question shows why the Rams will want to trade the pick before the draft and possibly before free agency. There's no use taking undue chances when getting value for the choice is the most important thing. The Rams do not need to get a huge bounty in return. They need a fair trade.
Any team trading into the third spot to select Griffin would have to worry about the Rams trading the second pick to another team with the same intentions. But if the Rams wait around, some teams will have addressed their quarterback situations, perhaps in ways that diminished their appetite for Griffin. That could lower the price for the second pick.
Fabian from Germany asks whether the Rams should trade the second overall choice, plus the first pick of the second round.
Mike Sando: Depends what they could get in return. They would not want to give away too much quality just to acquire additional picks.
Kathy from San Antonio wonders why San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh seems so "fixated" on Alex Smith as the team's starting quarterback. She thinks Manning could put the 49ers over the top. "Harbaugh seems like a guy who wants to be considered in the same sentence as Bill Walsh," she wrote, "yet he will hurt his long-term future as head coach if he sticks with Smith."
Mike Sando: Peyton Manning's health is a key variable. The 49ers might not trust his ability to get and stay healthy. The team might feel as though it has a good thing going, and the rewards of adding a diminished, older Manning might not appeal to them coming off a season in which they were really a play or two away from the Super Bowl. It is also possible the 49ers will reevaluate if anything changes with Manning.
Matt from Syracuse asks whether Arizona or Seattle is a better fit for Peyton Manning.
Mike Sando: I lean toward Arizona because the Cardinals play indoors, they have an offensive coach (Frank Reich) with direct ties to Manning and they have Larry Fitzgerald. But if they pay the $7 million to Kevin Kolb, it would be tough to pay Manning as well. The Seahawks are in better position to add a big-money quarterback because they do not have a big-money incumbent QB.
Josh from Iowa asks why assistants Gregg Williams, Brian Schottenheimer and Dave McGinnis seemed to eager to join Jeff Fisher's staff in St. Louis.
Mike Sando: I listened to McGinnis on the conference call. His excitement was definitely palpable. The fact that Williams and McGinnis would jump at the change to reunite with Fisher reflects well on Fisher. Fisher seems to know what is important. He seems to be no-nonsense and without pretense. He seems real. He's not walking around trying to prove to everyone that he's a head coach. This shows up in the confidence Fisher projects. Assistants are also looking for stability, which tends to be elusive in the NFL. Fisher lasted 16-plus seasons as head coach in his last job. That track record is appealing.
The next chat will be in two weeks. I'm taking off next week before ramping up for the NFL scouting combine.
Embracing him has only become easier after the team went 13-3 and reached the NFC Championship Game with Smith taking all the important snaps from center.
"We're all in lockstep as an organization that Alex Smith is our guy," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "It's well-documented. You saw the way he played this year. [He is a] tremendous leader on our football team.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says the next step for Smith includes reducing the number of sacks he takes. Maiocco: "On Tuesday, Smith said on 'Chronicle Live' that in the coming weeks he will analyze where he needs to get better and be honest with himself. That's where I see Smith can get better -- a lot better. Perhaps with a full offseason to fully comprehend the offense, Smith will have a greater understanding of the angles he can exploit against certain defenses to get rid of the ball quicker and allow his receivers to make more plays."
Kevin Lynch of the San Francisco Chronicle offers thoughts on various 49ers other than Harbaugh coming up short for awards recently.
Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says it's way too early for anyone in Seattle to get excited about a Super Bowl coming to the Northwest. Williams: "The Seahawks aren’t the only northern city to show interest, as Washington, Denver, New England, Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit are other northern markets that would likely want to be in the conversation for hosting a Super Bowl. Add to that group the fact San Francisco, San Diego and Minnesota are working on securing funding to build new or remodeled stadiums -- along with the NFL's recent tradition of offering Super Bowls to cities that build new stadiums -- and Seattle likely has an uphill climb of hosting a Super Bowl in the foreseeable future." Noted: The Seahawks have not submitted a formal bid for a Super Bowl. Seattle probably could have secured one years ago had the team's stadium, which opened in 2002, included a roof.
Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune says the Seahawks would be wise to pursue Peyton Manning this offseason. Boling: "Risks? Sure, they’re numerous and obvious. But if there weren’t risks, he would never hit the market. And if he turns out to be even close to the Peyton Manning who was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection, it’s likely that no other single move could put the Seahawks in contention quicker than landing him."
Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com checks in with new Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy, who visited Seahawks headquarters Wednesday and went to lunch with several reporters who covered him during his playing days. Kennedy: "It hit me that I’m a Hall of Famer, but you still can't believe it because of the magnitude of the situation being in the Hall of Fame. When you get a call from Steve Largent congratulating you; you get a call from John Randle saying congratulations; Michael Irvin; Marshall Faulk; guys that I played with. That was very special."
Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic checks in with the Cardinals' new quarterbacks coach, John McNulty. McNulty: "I don't think the job is to replace Kurt Warner any more. It's not to go win the game every week, but I think it's to be more productive, to certainly not lose the game, and to make sure every time they're on the field we're in tune with exactly what needs to be done, from play to play. We have to know what these QBs are in tune with and what they'll be able to handle, mentally and physically, and gear it toward them. In the end, they need to perform better, so that will fall on me, that will really fall on all of us. But it ultimately falls on them."
Also from Somers: Hiring former Indianapolis assistant Frank Reich as receivers coach reinforces the idea Arizona could pursue Manning this offseason. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "I hired Frank because he's a good coach."
Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team was close to hiring Todd Haley, but the lack of an opening for an offensive coordinator was a complicating factor.
Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Dave McGinnis' hiring in St. Louis was inevitable once Jeff Fisher became head coach. McGinnis: "Coaches in this league want to work for Jeff Fisher. The environment that you work in is very, very conducive to doing good things. He's very professional, but you have fun doing it."
Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says Fisher must build a program, not just a team. Gordon: "The task will be daunting, but Fisher inspires confidence within the football industry. This is why top assistant coaches are lining up to join this project."
- Ray McDonald's arrest on an outstanding warrant gives the San Francisco 49ers two known arrests in less than two weeks, both related to cases involving allegations of driving under the influence. Neither McDonald nor Aldon Smith has been convicted. McDonald did not commit a new driving-related offense. He apparently failed to complete or prove that he completed a diversionary program.
- Dave McGinnis jumped at the chance to reunite with Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams on the St. Louis Rams' staff. McGinnis, the Rams' new assistant head coach, spoke with enthusiasm when asked about the opportunity during a conference call Wednesday. Fisher was the first person McGinnis called for advice when becoming Arizona Cardinals coach in 2000. Their philosophical roots go back to Buddy Ryan and the Chicago Bears. McGinnis joined Fisher in Tennessee after the Cardinals fired him.
- The Rams will interview the Pittsburgh Steelers' Omar Khan for their general manager's opening, Jim Thomas reports. Khan interviewed for Seattle's GM opening two years ago.
- Seattle's Marshawn Lynch's agent of record has indeed changed with Mike Sullivan leaving Octagon Worldwide for the Denver Broncos. Octagon's Doug Hendrickson has been the point person in negotiations, and that is continuing. Lynch is among several high-profile backs without contracts. The new labor agreement has changed the dynamics. Teams can now name running backs franchise players at a cost of less than $8 million, down from about $9.5 million.
- That would be Peyton Manning appearing in a photo on the Arizona Cardinals' website. The accompanying story was not about Manning or where the Indianapolis Colts' quarterback might land this offseason. It was about John McNulty's move to quarterbacks coach and Frank Reich's hiring as receivers coach. Reich was Manning's position coach in Indianapolis, but he will replace McNulty as receivers coach.
Enjoy your Wednesday night.
Reich coached quarterbacks and later wide receivers for the Indianapolis Colts in recent seasons, giving the Cardinals a direct link to Peyton Manning should Manning hit the market this offseason, as expected. Multiple reports have listed the Cardinals among teams likely to pursue the Colts' longtime quarterback.
The Cardinals had an opening for a quarterbacks coach, but they moved receivers coach John McNulty into that role, replacing Chris Miller, who was fired. Reich replaces McNulty.
Reich, a former NFL quarterback best known for leading Buffalo's historic playoff comeback against the Houston Oilers, made his NFL coaching debut as a Colts offensive assistant in 2008. He became their quarterbacks coach in 2009, then moved to coach receivers this past season.
The Cardinals previously prevented McNulty from interviewing to become offensive coordinator with Tampa Bay. Moving him to quarterbacks coach allowed them to address McNulty's contract, which likely resulted in a pay raise. Team president Michael Bidwill discussed that expected move during Super Bowl week. Bidwill also affirmed the team's intention to pay a $7 million bonus to incumbent quarterback Kevin Kolb, but his wording left open the possibility things could change. Bidwill cited rules against tampering in discussing Manning specifically.
On Kolb and the bonus, he said this: "You sort of cross bridges as you get there, you know, but I wouldn't say we are going to deviate from the plan at this stage."
Hiring Reich only strengthens perceptions the Cardinals will pursue Manning if given the chance. Lots of other teams will likely have interest as well. Whatever edge Reich might offer will belong to the Cardinals.
It was that good.
"I think if you asked each guy to a man, in particular the Hall of Fame guys, there has always been a pride about our class," said cornerback Darrell Green, the 28th overall choice in 1983 and a Hall of Famer. "Without ever discussing it, we knew we were a pretty special class of athletes."
The class produced six Hall of Famers –- Elway, Kelly, Marino, Green, Eric Dickerson and Bruce Matthews -– in addition to recent Hall finalists Richard Dent and Roger Craig. Of the 335 players drafted, 41 combined for 142 Pro Bowl appearances.
No other draft class has produced more than 34 Pro Bowl players since the NFL and AFL combined for a common draft in 1967, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That year served as the starting point for this project ranking the five best draft classes. The 1996, 1981, 1969 and 1985 drafts also made the cut.
Not that making the cut was good enough for some.
"If you took the defensive players in our draft and put them on the field against any class, we would shut them out," said Ronnie Lott, one of the more decorated members of a 1981 class featuring Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary, Rickey Jackson, Howie Long and Kenny Easley.
The project was biased against recent classes because their players haven’t had time to achieve in ways that set apart the older classes. The 2001 class has already produced 33 Pro Bowlers, same as the 1996 class and more than every other class but 1983, 1987 and 1988. But the best players from that class aren't finished achieving.
The biggest challenge, at least to me, was settling on the right criteria. ESPN Stats & Information provided an updated version of the spreadsheet used to identify elite draft classes for a previous project . The spreadsheet awarded points to players based on:
- Hall of Fame enshrinement (15 points)
- MVP awards (8)
- Player of the year awards (6)
- All-Pro first-team awards (4)
- All-Pro second-team awards (3)
- Super Bowl victories (3)
- Pro Bowls (2)
- Rookie of the year awards (2)
- Super Bowl defeats (1)
I used the spreadsheet as a starting point.
From there, I assigned 15 points to current or recently retired players likely destined for Canton. The players I singled out were: Troy Polamalu, Dwight Freeney, Ed Reed, LaDainian Tomlinson, Steve Hutchinson, Brian Urlacher, Tom Brady, Champ Bailey, Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, Alan Faneca, Orlando Pace, Walter Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Jason Taylor, Jonathan Ogden, Marvin Harrison, Ray Lewis, Brian Dawkins, Terrell Owens, Derrick Brooks, Marshall Faulk, Larry Allen, Michael Strahan, Brett Favre, Junior Seau and Deion Sanders.
I added five points for Hall of Fame finalists not yet enshrined -- Cortez Kennedy, Shannon Sharpe, etc. These changes allowed the rich to get richer, of course, because all those players already had lots of Pro Bowls on their resumés. But if it was important to recognize current Hall of Famers -- and it was, I thought -- then it was important to acknowledge the strongest candidates not yet enshrined.
Another thing I noticed: These changes didn't significantly alter results, which were predicated mostly on Pro Bowl appearances, a statistical correlation revealed.
The next challenge was making sure the formula didn't acknowledge great players at the expense of good ones. ESPN's John Clayton and Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. felt the formula should take special care in this area. I wasn't as adamant.
"You love the Hall of Famers," Horton said, "but I like the class where the guy plays at a high level for a long time. I love those third-round picks that just play and play. We shouldn’t make a mistake at the first pick. That guy should be a great player."
Clayton used approximate-value ratings from Pro Football Reference to produce averages for each draft class. The 1993 class produced the highest average, followed by the 1996, 1983, 1975 and 1971 classes. Clayton also plugged in total games played. The 1983 class edged the 1993 class for the most, followed by the 1990, 1976 and 1988 classes.
A few key variables changed along the way.
Teams drafted at least 442 players annually from 1967 to 1976. They drafted more than 330 players each year from 1977 through 1992. The 1993 class featured only 224 players, fewer than any class under consideration. The first 224 players drafted in 1969 had much higher average approximate-value ratings than the 1993 class, for example. More recent draft classes also benefited from league expansion, which opened roster spots and opportunities for additional players.
NFL regular seasons also grew in length from 14 to 16 games beginning in 1978.
My focus was more on what the draft classes produced and less on extenuating circumstances.
The 1993 class is among those deserving honorable mention. Do the most decorated members of that class -- Strahan, Willie Roaf, Will Shields, John Lynch, Jerome Bettis and Drew Bledsoe among them -- hold up to the best from other years?
Take a look at my top five classes and decide for yourself.
Why it's the best: No other class came close using the point system from ESPN Stats & Information. The 1983 class finished in a virtual tie with the 1996 and 1981 classes even when I removed from consideration the three Hall of Fame quarterbacks -- Elway, Marino and Jim Kelly. No class had more combined Pro Bowls from its top-10 picks (42) or more combined Pro Bowls from players drafted later than the 200th overall choice (26). Five of the six Hall of Famers played their entire NFL careers with one team for 83 combined seasons, or 16.6 on average.
Hall of Famers: Elway (Broncos), Kelly (Bills), Marino (Dolphins), Green (Redskins), Dickerson (Rams), Matthews (Oilers)
Hall of Fame finalists: Richard Dent (Bears), Roger Craig (49ers)
Other big names: Karl Mecklenburg (Broncos), Joey Browner (Vikings), Chris Hinton (Broncos), Charles Mann (Redskins), Dave Duerson (Bears), Leonard Marshall (Giants), Albert Lewis (Chiefs), Curt Warner (Seahawks), Jimbo Covert (Bears), Henry Ellard (Rams), Mark Clayton (Dolphins), Tim Krumrie (Bengals), Greg Townsend (Raiders), Gill Byrd (Chargers), Don Mosebar (Raiders), Darryl Talley (Bills).
Late-round steals: Mecklenburg was the 310th overall choice. Dent went 203rd overall. Clayton went 223rd. They combined for 15 Pro Bowls.
Ah, the memories: Green grew up in Houston rooting for the Oilers, but his hometown team wasn't very accommodating on draft day. His family didn't have cable TV, so they couldn't watch the draft on ESPN. They had heard the Oilers would be showing it at their facility, or at least providing real-time updates, but Green was turned away.
"They sent my little behind on out of there," Green said. "That is the way that went. What is funny, I’m a Houstonian, I played 20 years in the NFL, started 18 years and I never played in Houston but one time, so I couldn’t stick it to them. ... But you always love your hometown. I was a Luv Ya Blue, Bum Phillips, Kenny Burrough, Earl Campbell, Dan Pastorini fan."
Green was used to the cold shoulder. Tim Lewis, drafted 11th overall by Green Bay, was supposed to be the superstar cornerback that year. Looking back, Green liked going one spot after Marino. Green also values being a bookend to a first round featuring Elway on the other side.
"[Redskins general manager] Bobby Beathard told me if I was there, he would take me," Green said. "I'd always been told by pro players, 'Hey, don’t believe anything they say.' As an adult, I know why. Things change. But the man told me. We got down to Dan Marino at 27 and I knew I wouldn't be 27. Then when we got to 28, the last pick of the first round, now I’ve got nothing else to do but believe it. I was extremely excited he maintained his word."
Why it's No. 2: Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis arguably rank among the three best players at their positions in NFL history. Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens arguably rank among the 10 greatest receivers. Between four and seven members from this class have strong credentials for Canton. Only the 1983 class produced more total Pro Bowl appearances. Unlike some other classes -- 1988 comes to mind -- this one provided star power deep into the draft.
Hall of Famers: none yet.
Hall of Fame finalists: none yet.
Strongest Hall credentials: Jonathan Ogden (Ravens), Marvin Harrison (Colts), Ray Lewis (Ravens), Brian Dawkins (Eagles), Terrell Owens (49ers), Zach Thomas (Dolphins), La'Roi Glover (Raiders).
Other big names: Mike Alstott (Bucs), Willie Anderson (Bengals), Simeon Rice (Bucs), Lawyer Milloy (Patriots), Tedy Bruschi (Patriots), Eddie George (Titans), Jeff Hartings (Lions), Keyshawn Johnson (Jets), Donnie Edwards (Chiefs), Jon Runyan (Oilers), Amani Toomer (Giants), Muhsin Muhammad (Panthers), Stephen Davis (Redskins), Joe Horn (Chiefs), Marco Rivera (Packers).
Late-round steals: Fifth-rounders Thomas, Glover and Horn combined for 17 Pro Bowls. Another fifth-rounder, Jermaine Lewis, added two more. No other fifth round produced more total Pro Bowls during the period in question. Although expansion added additional picks to more recent fifth rounds, those picks were also later in the draft. Thomas and Glover should get strong Hall of Fame consideration.
Ah, the memories: Glover was the 16th defensive tackle drafted in 1996. He wasn't even invited to the combine initially, and when he did get the call, there wasn't enough time to prepare for the specialized events. Glover, who weighed about 265 pounds at San Diego State, was in trouble and he knew it.
"It's funny to me now, but it wasn't funny then," Glover said. "I got a call maybe a week before the combine, so I wasn’t prepared. I was out there doing my long-distance conditioning training and I wasn’t doing speed-type training. I may have ran like a 5.1 or 5.2, a very bad time."
Glover performed much better at his personal workout, dropping those times into the low 4.9s. Oakland made him the 166th player chosen that year.
"I just remember feeling goosebumps and I started sweating -- the dream is coming true," Glover said. "And then I was put on the phone with Mr. Al Davis. He asked me a very specific question: 'How would you like to be an Oakland Raider?' And I damn near lost it. I didn’t cry or anything. I kept my composure over the phone. As soon as I hung up and saw my name come on the ticker -- I lived in a tiny 2-3 bedroom home -- the place just erupted. All the women were crying and all the men were asking for tickets."
Why it's No. 3: This was arguably the greatest defensive draft under consideration, particularly near the top. The NFL's best athletes typically played offense, but 1981 draftees Taylor, Lott and Easley helped change the dynamics. This draft wasn't as strong as some throughout, but its star power on defense set it apart. Key players from this draft helped the 49ers, Redskins, Giants, Bears and Raiders dominate at times during the decade. Only the 1986 draft produced more Super Bowl winners.
Hall of Famers: Taylor (Giants), Lott (49ers), Mike Singletary (Bears), Howie Long (Raiders), Rickey Jackson (Saints), Russ Grimm (Redskins).
Hall of Fame finalists: none.
Other big names: Easley, Eric Wright (49ers), Dennis Smith (Broncos), Cris Collinsworth (Bengals), Hanford Dixon (Browns), Freeman McNeil (Jets), James Brooks (Chargers), Brian Holloway (Patriots), Hugh Green (Bucs), Carlton Williamson (49ers), Neil Lomax (Cardinals), Dexter Manley (Redskins), Mark May (Redskins), E.J. Junior (Cardinals).
Late-round steals: Charlie Brown, chosen 201st overall by the Redskins, caught 16 touchdown passes in his first two seasons, earning Pro Bowl honors both years. Wade Wilson, chosen 210th, played 19 seasons and earned one Pro Bowl berth, in 1988.
Ah, the memories: Once the 49ers drafted Lott eighth overall, the USC safety headed to the airport to use a ticket the team had held for him. Easley, chosen sixth by the Seahawks, was the other great safety in that draft class and the two were so closely linked that the person behind the airline counter mixed up Lott's destination.
"You are going to Seattle?"
"No, San Francisco," Lott replied.
Lott often looks back on how things might have been different if the Saints had drafted Taylor instead of George Rogers first overall. That wasn't going to happen because the Saints wanted a running back to help them control the clock, and they were especially particular about character in that draft -- their first with Bum Phillips as head coach.
"Lawrence Taylor, I didn't realize he was going to be that type of player, but Rickey Jackson did turn out to be the player we needed [in the second round]," Phillips said. "We needed a great player and a great individual. We needed some leadership and we needed the right kind of character to be leaders."
The 49ers needed a new secondary. They used that 1981 draft to select Lott, Wright and Williamson.
"I talked to Bill Walsh and his statement was, 'If I see it on film once, then my coaches should be able to get it out of a guy,'" said Horton, the Scouts Inc. founder and veteran NFL talent evaluator. "That always stuck with me. He was amazing at seeing things on tape. That '81 draft was a smart draft. You could look at that draft and you could see what teams were thinking."
Why it's No. 4: Roger Wehrli's 2007 Hall of Fame enshrinement gave this class five inductees. Only three other classes managed more combined Pro Bowl appearances. Some of the names in this class won't resonate with recent generations, and that is understandable. But this was still a strong class and one worthy of our consideration.
Hall of Famers: Joe Greene (Steelers), Ted Hendricks (Raiders), O.J. Simpson (Bills), Wehrli (Cardinals), Charlie Joiner (Oilers).
Hall of Fame finalists: L.C. Greenwood (Steelers), Bob Kuechenberg (Eagles).
Other big names: George Kunz (Falcons), Bill Bergey (Bengals), Bill Stanfill (Dolphins), Calvin Hill (Cowboys), Ed White (Vikings), Gene Washington (49ers), Jack Rudnay (Chiefs), Bill Bradley (Eagles), Ted Kwalick (49ers), Jim Marsalis (Chiefs), Ron Johnson (Browns), Fred Dryer (Giants).
Late-round steals: Greenwood was a six-time Pro Bowl choice and was the 238th overall pick. The Falcons found five-time Pro Bowler Jeff Van Note with the 262nd choice. Larry Brown, chosen 191st overall, was a four-time Pro Bowl selection.
Ah, the memories: There was no scouting combine back then. Wehrli couldn't remember seeing a pro scout, even at Missouri practices. He had never even run a 40-yard dash until a Cardinals scout asked him to run one at the Hula Bowl all-star game in Hawaii.
Wehrli agreed to run on the spot even though he was wearing pads, the playing surface was natural grass and the stakes were higher than he realized.
"At the time, I didn’t know it was a Cardinals scout," Wehrli said. "I ran the 40, came back and he said, 'Man, we didn’t realize you were that fast.' Later, he told me that timing moved me up to a first-round draft choice [from the third round]."
Wehrli had clocked in the 4.5-second range. He would run 4.4s on Astroturf later in the pros.
"You never really trained for it back then," he said.
Why it's No. 5: Just as the 1983 class featured more than quarterbacks, the 1985 version offered much more than the most prolific receiver in NFL history. Yes, Jerry Rice was the 16th overall choice, helping set apart this class from some others. But the supporting cast featured elite talent, from Bruce Smith to Chris Doleman and beyond.
Hall of Famers: Rice (49ers), Smith (Bills).
Hall of Fame finalists: Andre Reed (Bills).
Other big names: Lomas Brown (Lions), Steve Tasker (Oilers), Ray Childress (Oilers), Kevin Greene (Rams), Jay Novacek (Cardinals), Bill Fralic (Falcons), Jerry Gray (Rams), Randall Cunningham (Eagles), Ron Wolfley (Cardinals), Al Toon (Jets), Jim Lachey (Chargers), Kevin Glover (Lions), Mark Bavaro (Giants), Herschel Walker (Cowboys), Duane Bickett (Colts), Doug Flutie (Rams), Jack Del Rio (Saints).
Late-round steals: Tasker became a seven-time Pro Bowl choice on special teams as the 226th overall choice (albeit with Buffalo, after the Oilers waived him). Greene was a fifth-rounder, Novacek was a sixth-rounder and Bavaro, one of the toughest tight ends, provided excellent value in the fourth round.
Ah, the memories: Bill Polian was a little-known pro personnel director with USFL roots when Bills general manager Terry Bledsoe suffered a heart attack two months before the draft. The Bills had already landed their franchise quarterback in Kelly two years earlier, but his two-year detour through the USFL had set back the organization. Buffalo held the No. 1 overall pick, and the stakes were high.
Polian took over GM duties. Norm Pollom, a holdover from the Chuck Knox years, headed up the college scouting side.
The Bills were in great hands. Although some fans hoped the team would draft Flutie, Polian and Pollom found building blocks.
Aggressive wheeling and dealing allowed Buffalo to land cornerback Derrick Burroughs with the 14th choice, acquired from Green Bay, even after drafting Smith first overall. Reed was a steal in the fourth round. The decision to draft Smith over Ray Childress was the right one even though Childress became a five-time Pro Bowl choice for the Oilers.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
It's tough convincing millionaire athletes to work 80-hour weeks for a fraction of what they earned as players. Warner will pocket $19 million in salary and signing bonus this year, considerably more than an entire NFL coaching staff earns in a season.
Most former NFL quarterbacks coaching the position played before huge salaries proliferated (see chart). I remember a prominent offensive lineman informing his team upon retirement in the late 1990s that he would be willing to serve as an assistant for $400,000 a year. The team tried not to laugh. The player never went into coaching.
Warner's new position coach, Chris Miller, is one of the more accomplished former NFL quarterbacks coaching the position. I counted 10 former NFL passers coaching quarterbacks. The figure includes Redskins head coach Jim Zorn, who oversees the position. The Broncos' Mike McCoy spent one game as the 49ers' third quarterback in 1997.
Another 14 NFL quarterbacks coaches played the position in college, including the Seahawks' Bill Lazor (Cornell), the Rams' Dick Curl (Richmond) and the 49ers' Mike Johnson (Akron).
Ken Zampese (Bengals), Kyle Shanahan (Texans) and James Urban (Eagles) were college receivers. The Saints' Joe Lombardi, grandson of Vince, was a college tight end. The Chargers' John Ramsdell was a college running back. The Patriots' Bill O'Brien and the Vikings' Kevin Rogers were college linebackers. The Lions' Jeff Horton did not play in college.
The Chiefs do not list a quarterbacks coach, but offensive coordinator Chan Gailey, once a quarterback at Florida, is overseeing the position.