NFL Nation: Carl Peterson

After Sparano: Next steps for Dolphins

December, 12, 2011
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In the past, NFL teams waited until the Monday after the season to announce their head-coaching firings. It’s called Black Monday.

When the Dolphins jumped into the mix by firing Tony Sparano hours after Todd Haley was let go by Kansas City, it was an indication how the shortage of head-coaching talent forced owner Stephen Ross to make a bold move. Ross didn’t want to fall behind other AFC teams looking for head coaches and reached out to close friend Carl Peterson to help run the Dolphins' operation.

The plan to hire Peterson is an indication the Dolphins will reach out to Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden and Jeff Fisher to start. Gruden is expected to stay with ESPN. Despite his good relationship with Peterson, Cowher might be reluctant to go to the Dolphins for several reasons. Cowher wants front-office control, big money and a top quarterback. The Dolphins have Matt Moore as their quarterback, which wouldn’t attract Cowher. Money might not be a problem, but power is a problem. The team is expected to keep Jeff Ireland as its general manager, and that might be enough to prevent Cowher from being a candidate. That leaves Fisher as a top candidate.

Teams in the hunt for coaches know there are three price tags for coaches. You can get your Cowhers and Fishers in the $7 million-a-year range. If you find the right college or former NFL head coach, he might go for $5 million a year. First-time coaches go for close to $3 million.

By firing Sparano on Monday, Ross is hinting he might be willing to pay top money to get a coach. He worries about the empty seats at home games. Now that pro basketball is back, the Dolphins take a back seat to the Miami Heat, so hiring a big name is important for marketing the team. Because Peterson is an aggressive recruiter and salesman himself, the Dolphins won’t be shy about going for the big names.

Firing Sparano now also gives Peterson and Ireland a chance to evaluate interim coach Todd Bowles, who had been the secondary coach. According to sources, Bowles had become more involved with the defensive play-calling over the past month. The Dolphins also played their best football over the past month. If Bill Parcells were running a team, sources indicate Bowles would have been a person he considered hiring as head coach.

Another name to watch is Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Peterson reinvented the Chiefs and sold out Arrowhead with Brian’s father, Marty Schottenheimer, as Chiefs head coach.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Scott Pioli goes home a success

November, 19, 2011
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PioliDenny Medley/US PresswireScott Pioli brings his banged-up Kansas City Chiefs to Gillette Stadium to face the New England Patriots on Monday night.
Scott Pioli isn’t bringing his best unit back to New England as he visits the place where he helped build a dynasty for the first time since getting the chance to build his own franchise out West.

However, in his third season away from New England, Pioli is coming back home clearly succeeding on his own.

Since leaving the shadow of Bill Belichick in January 2009, Pioli has built a reputation for bringing a strong executive in his own right. Pioli, a friend and underling of Belichick’s since their Cleveland days of the early 1990s, was Belichick’s right-hand man in New England.

The Patriots were the team of the first decade of this century and Kansas City owner Clark Hunt pegged Pioli as his top choice to lead his team after a nearly 20-year run by former general manager Carl Peterson. Hunt has to be pleased with the work Pioli, 46, has done in Kansas City as the Chiefs head to New England for a "Monday Night Football" game.

Because of a rash of injuries, however, Pioli’s team is limping into the game against the Patriots. Instead of bringing back Matt Cassel -- who started for the Patriots in 2008 as an injury replacement for Tom Brady -- to New England for the first time since he made the quarterback his first major addition in Kansas City, Pioli will have to watch his team adjust to playing with inexperienced backup Tyler Palko. Cassel may be out for the rest of the season after suffering a serious hand injury in a loss to Denver this past Sunday.

Pioli has seen the core of his young roster ravaged by injury in what was supposed to be a season of continued progress. Running back Jamaal Charles, safety Eric Berry and tight end Tony Moeaki all suffered season-ending knee injuries in September.

The streaky Chiefs are 4-5, and because of the injuries and a tough remaining schedule, they will have a difficult time repeating as AFC West champions.

Pioli’s program tasted success in Kansas City earlier than expected when the roster he constructed and the team coach Todd Haley put on the field went 10-6 in 2010. Going into that season, both Pioli and Haley were looking to make progress from a team that had won a total of 10 games in the previous three seasons combined. A division title seemed like a pipe dream.

Regardless of what happens in this freakish season in the heartland, Pioli’s program is still on the upswing. There is intriguing, young talent throughout the roster. Pioli has put together some strong drafts the past two years and the future appears to be bright in Kansas City.

Pioli heads home Monday night, knowing his battered team is moving in the right direction and that the Chiefs are better off for prying him out of New England two-plus years ago regardless if they can compete with his former club.

Former Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Jared Allen is still mad about his final days as a Chief.

Allen blasted Carl Peterson in a conference call with Kansas City reporters Wednesday for trading him to the Minnesota Vikings in 2008 because they did not want to give him a long-term deal. The Chiefs replaced him with Scott Pioli. Allen also took some lighter jabs at Kansas City chairman Clark Hunt, but Peterson was his main target. The Vikings visit Kansas City on Sunday.

"His name was Carl Peterson,” Allen said when he was asked to explain what he meant by earlier comments in the call about his problems in Kansas City.

“You can write that in caps. Obviously, I guess I had a problem with Clark [Hunt], too, because he chose Carl over me. When everything went down there, I didn’t appreciate being lied to. I was told I’d be getting a [contract] extension and everything and the way things played out. ... My biggest thing was, ‘Listen, I never lied to you guys. I show up and I bust my tail for you. Please don’t lie to me.’ After so many times of hearing they’re going to take care of you and they don’t and hearing the words Carl had to say about me, it’s tough to give it your all for somebody like that."

Allen said he didn’t have a problem with his coach, Herm Edwards, in Kansas City.

"Absolutely not,” Allen said. “Herm is one of my good friends to this day. Unfortunately, I think Herm got the raw end of the deal over there, too. The truth of the matter is we were an aging team. Herm drafted a bunch of guys and I feel he kind of got the shaft if you will. I loved playing for Herm and he's one of my favorite coaches."

Allen’s visit to Arrowhead Stadium will likely be more emotional for the fans than for the Chiefs. The staff and the roster have changed dramatically since he was traded. However, Allen was a favorite of the fans and I’m sure his juices will be flowing Sunday.

Allen has been terrific in Minnesota since the trade, where he's had 44.5 sacks. Only one player in the league, Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware, has more with 51.5

The trade has worked out for the Chiefs as well. They added Jamaal Charles and Branden Albert with picks acquired in the deal.

Draft Watch: AFC West

March, 17, 2011
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NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | SouthAFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: draft rewind -- examining the past five drafts.

Denver Broncos

Best choice: Elvis Dumervil, linebacker. The Broncos have had an uneven drafting history in the past five years. Many of Denver’s better picks are no longer with the team. Dumervil was a safe choice. He has been a very productive player since Denver took him the fourth round in 2006. Dumervil led the NFL with 17 sacks in 2009. He missed all of last season with a pectoral injury. But he is considered a cornerstone of Denver’s defense as it begins the John Fox era.

Worst choice: Alphonso Smith, cornerback. There are a lot of candidates here, but I had to go with Smith. He edged out 2007 No. 17 overall pick Jarvis Moss, who was cut last season. Smith is the choice because he lasted one season in Denver and he cost the Broncos the No. 14 overall pick in 2010. Former Denver coach Josh McDaniels fell for Smith when he dropped to the second round in 2009. McDaniels, running his first NFL draft, traded the team’s first-round pick in 2010 to take Smith. He was replaced four times as a rookie, including by an undrafted rookie. Denver finally dumped him off to Detroit on the final cut-down day last year.

On the bubble: Knowshon Moreno, running back. There are a few choices here, but Moreno has to make immediate strides. The No. 12 overall pick in 2009 has had a slow start to his career. He’s had his moments, but he’s been plagued by injuries and an overall lack of productivity. If he doesn’t progress in 2011, the Broncos may have to make other plans at tailback.

Kansas City Chiefs

Best choice: Jamaal Charles, running back. Charles was a wonderful parting gift from the Carl Peterson era. He was part of Peterson’s final draft in Kansas City and was he a doozy. He was taken in the third round, with the No. 73 overall pick in 2008. The pick was acquired from Minnesota in the Jared Allen trade. Charles has developed into one of the best running backs in the NFL. He is a big reason why the Chiefs were a worst-to-first story in 2010.

Worst choice: Turk McBride, defensive lineman. The Chiefs haven’t had many overtly horrible picks in the past five years. I’m going with McBride because he was a second-round pick, No. 54 overall, in 2007. The defensive lineman spent his second season on the injured reserve and was cut in 2009.

On the bubble: Tyson Jackson. Jackson had potential to make Kansas City fans forget about McBride. The defensive end was the No. 3 overall pick in 2009. He hasn’t done much in two seasons. Still, the Chiefs are hopeful that the earnest Jackson will develop into a good player. He will have time to prove himself, but he will be watched closely.

Oakland Raiders

Best choice: Zach Miller, tight end. The Raiders’ 2007 draft will always be remembered for the colossal JaMarcus Russell mistake. But the Raiders did find a gem with their very next pick. They took Miller in the second round with the No. 38 overall choice. Miller has developed into one of the better young tight ends in the NFL. He is a top offensive weapon.

Worst choice: JaMarcus Russell, quarterback. I didn’t have to do much debating on this one. Russell is considered by many league observers to be the worst draft pick of all time. He never improved and the Raiders gave up on him last spring at the age of 24. Russell is still out of the league.

On the bubble: Darrius Heyward-Bey, wide receiver. The No. 7 overall pick in 2009 needs to start producing on a consistent basis and he needs to show he can catch the ball. If not, Heyward-Bey will fall further behind Oakland’s other, more productive young receivers. Heyward-Bey has only 35 catches in 26 NFL games.

San Diego Chargers

Best choice: Marcus McNeill, left tackle. The Chargers have some solid picks in the past five years, but I’m going to go with McNeill. He is not an elite left tackle, but he is a very solid player who is a strong anchor to the offensive line. He is the long-term answer for San Diego at a key spot. San Diego is getting a lot of value for the No. 50 overall pick in 2006.

Worst choice: Buster Davis, wide receiver. The Chargers haven’t whiffed badly on a lot of picks in the past five years. But it looks as if Davis may not ever pan out as a Charger. He was the team’s first-round pick in 2007, No. 30 overall. His biggest issue has been staying healthy. He finally showed some promise last year, but he missed the final nine games with an injury. He has played only 26 games in four seasons.

On the bubble: Larry English, linebacker. English is the fourth 2009 first-round pick to make this list. Like the other three players, it’s time for English to show he can help his team. The Chargers took the Northern Illinois linebacker at No. 16 because of his high motor and ability to rush the passer. English, who already is 25, has only five sacks in two NFL seasons. He missed eight games because of injury in 2010. The Chargers probably will draft a pass-rusher in the first round, so English will have to fight for playing time in 2011.

Dolphins continue to patch up front office

January, 22, 2011
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The Miami Dolphins announced Saturday they have signed general manager Jeff Ireland to a multi-year extension.

The move appears to be another attempt to stabilize a front office that was in turmoil two weeks ago, when the Dolphins extended head coach Tony Sparano's contract after a failed pursuit of Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Ireland accompanied Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to California to meet with Harbaugh, who eventually accepted a job with the San Francisco 49ers. Ross didn't inform Sparano they were making the trip. The Dolphins returned to South Florida and gave Sparano a new contract.

"The decision to extend Jeff's contract as our general manager was an easy one," Ross said in a statement released by the club Saturday. "The young talent that Jeff has assembled during his three years with the Dolphins has made a profound impact on our franchise’s recovery from the 1-15 season of 2007.

"Jeff has my full support moving forward as we pursue our goals to build the best and brightest front office in the National Football League and ultimately to win a Super Bowl Championship for all of South Florida and Dolphin fans around the world."

The Dolphins' front office has been in a curious transition over the past five months.

A few days before the 2010 season began, the Dolphins announced vice president of football operations Bill Parcells stepped down and would be a consultant. He cleared out his office shortly thereafter, and his actual role with the team is unclear. The 49ers wanted Parcells to help them evaluate their organizational direction.

Reports of Carl Peterson's involvement have been contradictory. Ross has stated Peterson, a longtime associate and former Kansas City Chiefs executive, was not involved in the Dolphins' recent coaching distraction.

Tony Sparano ... You ARE the head coach!

January, 8, 2011
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I only kissed her, and that's as far as it went.

I didn't inhale.

We did not offer Jim Harbaugh a contract or reach out to Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden.

[+] EnlargeStephen Ross and Jeff Ireland
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeDolphins owner Stephen Ross, left, and general manager Jeff Ireland spoke Saturday at the team's training facility in Davie, Fla.
I've seen enough episodes of "Maury" to know these sorts of declarations rarely hold up.

Tony Sparano said the Dolphins were in "a happy place" after a week of embarrassment and agitation. The Miami Dolphins announced Saturday that they were going to stick with Sparano as their head coach -- and gave him an extension through 2013 -- after a disastrous flirtation with Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, general manager Jeff Ireland and Sparano held a media roundtable in their board room to clear the air and give their side of the story. Much of what they said sounded like spin, but they also debunked some erroneous media reports about their pursuit of Harbaugh.

Ross and Ireland admitted they jetted cross-continent to meet Harbaugh without telling Sparano. Ross said he was na´ve to think he could get away with pursuing Harbaugh -- just like that hidden camera and the hot-to-trot decoy in Maury's green room -- without the nation finding out.

Ross insisted he didn't make a contract offer to Harbaugh. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Ross was "willing" to make Harbaugh one of the NFL's richest coaches with a deal between $7 million and $8 million. Ross claimed during the meeting he advised Harbaugh to stay at Stanford, which makes Ireland's presence even more curious.

Ross also was emphatic that no one within the Dolphins organization contacted Cowher or Gruden. Within seconds of Ross voicing that contention, Miami Herald reporter Jeff Darlington, who was seated at the media roundtable, tweeted "I have multiple sources who will refute that." NFL Network reporter Jason La Canfora also added he had sources that told him the Dolphins did reach out to Cowher and Gruden. Mortensen previously reported the Dolphins had done so.

Perhaps Ross was dealing in semantics. His close friend is former Kansas City Chiefs executive Carl Peterson, who has been an adviser since Ross took over the Dolphins and has helped him in ancillary business endeavors. Peterson technically doesn't hold a position within the Dolphins organization. Or maybe the Dolphins didn't specifically speak with Cowher or Gruden, rather with their agents to gauge their interest level.

But for the sake of discussion, let's assume Ross is being genuine in his assertion the Dolphins didn't contact Gruden or Cowher.

That, to me, would make him look worse.

The Dolphins would have you believe they were going to stick with Sparano or dump him for Harbaugh only. If a team has identified that it needs to upgrade its coach, then why not explore all viable options?

Ross said Peterson wasn't on the flight to see Harbaugh as reported. Ross also explained the meeting he had agreed to and then canceled with former Cleveland Browns and New York Jets head coach Eric Mangini. Ross said Mangini asked to meet about a non-coaching capacity through Dolphins capologist Dawn Aponte, who came from the Browns.

The Dolphins will go through a healing process in the coming months.

They'll need to set aside their differences and get ready to evaluate prospects at the Senior Bowl and then the NFL scouting combine. They'll need to work together through free agency. They'll need to be on the same page at the draft.

The Dolphins fully expect to move past this. But so often these fractured relationships simply don't have a happy ending.
Jamaal CharlesAP Photo/Ed ZurgaThe Chiefs have built a division champion featuring young, talented players like Jamaal Charles.
Brian Waters had nothing to do but ride and watch.

Nursing an injury for much of training camp, the Kansas City Chiefs Pro Bowl guard was relegated to jockeying an exercise bike instead of practicing with his teammates. With a perfect sideline view, Waters noticed something develop in the summer heat as he pedaled for countless hours.

The Chiefs had some extremely talented young players.

“Sitting there on the bike, our young guys really stood out to me,” Waters said this week. “I noticed the 2008 class was really developing out there, and then there was the rookie class. They were really something. The combination of those two classes really gave me hope that we might be on to something. Those two classes are a big reason why we’re where we are.”

There are several reasons why the 10-6 Chiefs – who won a total of 10 games in the previous three seasons – went from worst to first in the AFC West and will play host to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in the AFC wild-card round. The Chiefs are well coached, quarterback Matt Cassel has developed, the running game was tops in the NFL, the offensive line was strong, they didn’t make many mistakes, and the defense was aggressive and improved its pass rush. A lot of those reasons can be attributed to the development of Kansas City’s third-year players and rookie class.

“The Chiefs have some very good young players,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. “I think a big reason why this team improved so much is because of those two classes. There’s a ton of guys who are giving the Chiefs big-time contributions from 2008 and 2010.”

The 2008 draft -- buoyed by the Jared Allen trade to Minnesota – was the final contribution of the 20-year Carl Peterson era in Kansas City. Many league observers thought that draft class had a chance to be special. But it looked anything but special for the first two seasons, although second-round pick Brandon Flowers (cornerback) and third-round pick Jamaal Charles (running back) showed signs of being excellent players early on.

The two first-round picks, defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey (No. 5 overall) and left tackle Branden Albert (No. 15), were nothing special in their first two years. However, Dorsey and Albert have both made big progress this season.

Dorsey has flourished in defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel’s 3-4 defense after struggling in the 3-4 under Clancy Pendergast last season. Dorsey has been the anchor of the defense, and he plays with a high motor. Many scouts thought the LSU star was the best player available in the 2008 draft, and he is now showing how good he is. Albert has melded well with the veterans on Kansas City’s line, and also has made major strides in 2010. There had been talk before the 2010 draft that the Chiefs would take Russell Okung with the No. 5 pick (who went one pick later to Seattle) and move Albert to right tackle.

The Chiefs have to be thrilled they didn’t make that move. Kansas City has its left tackle for the next several years, and it seems to have scored big with safety Eric Berry, the team’s top pick in 2010.

“Dorsey and Albert are showing why they were such high picks,” Williamson said. “Dorsey has been much better in the 3-4 than I thought he would be. He’s playing with a great purpose, and Albert is the best player on a good line.”

The showcase player of the Chiefs’ 2008 class, of course, is Charles. Kansas City drafted Charles out of Texas because of his blazing speed. The Chiefs hoped he’d be a nice change-of-pace player. In his third NFL season, Charles -- who along with Albert was a prize from the Allen trade -- has developed into the NFL’s premier game-breaker.

Charles was second in the NFL in rushing this season with 1,467 yards. His 6.38 per-carry average was the second highest single-season average behind the legendary Jim Brown, who averaged 6.4 yards a carry in 1963. If the Chiefs have a chance to beat the Ravens, it will start with Charles’ big-play threat.

The class, which also features right tackle Barry Richardson, also netted Kansas City’s two cornerbacks, who have a chance to be with the team for several years. While Flowers showed strong signs of being a good player (Williamson says he thinks Flowers can be a top-five cornerback), right cornerback Brandon Carr has come on strong this season. The fifth-round pick led the Chiefs with 19 passes defended, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

While Peterson and coach Herm Edwards’ swan song presented Kansas City with a terrific parting gift, the second draft class of the Scott Pioli-Todd Haley era has been a jackpot. Their first class was small and so far uninspiring besides kicker Ryan Succop, the final pick of the entire 2009 draft. But their second class has been one of the best rookie classes in the NFL, along with those of Oakland, New England and Tampa Bay.

In June, Haley said he didn’t think the task was too big for his draft class, and that was before he had seen the players in training camp. Through the regular season, Haley had to feel the same way. This class has been extremely productive.

It starts with Berry. While he is still learning, he has been a complete player and has the look of being a fierce player for a long time. Gary Horton of Scouts Inc. notes that Berry, who was named the NFL's defensive rookie of the month for December, is an excellent blitzer, strong in run support and continues to improve in coverage. Berry had four interceptions as a rookie. It’s noteworthy that Berry will be on the same field as the Ravens’ Ed Reed in his first postseason game. Berry has a chance to a have a Reed-like impact on the Chiefs in the coming years.

Second-round picks Javier Arenas and Dexter McCluster are both fine returners. Arenas has been decent as a nickel cornerback, and McCluster, when healthy, is a downfield target.

Next to Berry, perhaps the next most productive rookie has been third-round pick Tony Moeaki. Cassel looks to have complete trust in Moeaki, a tight end who can split the field and has soft hands. How good has Moeaki been? His rookie season has been much better than former Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez, the NFL record holder for all relevant tight end receiving marks.

Moeaki had 47 catches for 556 yards this season. His reception total was a team rookie record by 14 catches, and his yardage total was three yards off the team’s rookie mark. Safety Kendrick Lewis also has been a contributor this season.

“You have to give a lot of credit to the young kids,” veteran receiver Chris Chambers said. “They’ve come in here and acted like pros. They are a big reason why we’ve been so successful this season, no doubt about it.”

Dolphins humiliate Sparano, then keep him

January, 7, 2011
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The Miami Dolphins will retain Tony Sparano and have abandoned their courtship of Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh.

How's that for awkward?

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, close friend and former Kansas City Chiefs executive Carl Peterson and general manager Jeff Ireland flew to the Bay Area to meet with Harbaugh. They reportedly were prepared to offer an annual salary between $7 million and $8 million. The Dolphins previously also approached Bill Cowher about taking over as head coach, but were rebuffed.

[+] EnlargeTony Sparano
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaAfter courting Jim Harbaugh on Thursday, the Miami Dolphins decided to stick with current coach Tony Sparano.
Back at the Dolphins' headquarters in Davie, Fla., Sparano reported for work Thursday and tried to pretend as though his future would not be determined by a college coach's willingness to hijack his job.

I doubt Sparano leaned on the windowsill and eagerly waited for Ross to return home.

Perhaps Sparano spent the day playing solitaire on his desktop or standing at the Xerox machine, making copies of all the Dolphins' files. Committing himself to helping the Dolphins get better couldn't have been easy, not while his bosses were on the other side of the continent, wooing his replacement.

And that will be a huge problem moving forward.

How can Sparano have any faith in his front office when they will chase any hot number who will bat an eyelash?

Sparano's relationships with Ross and Ireland have been damaged and must be repaired. It won't be easy, no matter how much of a happy face they all try to put on.

They embarrassed Sparano, a coach who guided them to the AFC East title one season after they went 1-15. He was just as responsible for changing that miserable culture as Bill Parcells was.

What has transpired over the past 72 hours has made the Dolphins a laughingstock.

Eric Stangel, lead writer for "The Late Show with David Letterman," tweeted Thursday night: "How is it that the Jersey Shore cast has shown better people skills than Miami Dolphins management?"

Sparano has been undressed in front of the NFL community, and the humiliation will continue because he has little choice but to return to work Friday and go about his business. I wonder if the Dolphins will hold a news conference that would force Sparano to express his gratitude.

What kind of clout can Ross expect Sparano to have in the locker room now? The Dolphins have shown a more emphatic commitment to some players than they have to Sparano here.

The front office has created a working environment where it will be more difficult for players to respect the coach because ownership didn't believe in him.

Whether or not Sparano might feel compelled to quit, he cannot. He would forfeit his paycheck and might be labeled a quitter.

Being an NFL coach has been Sparano's dream, and there are only 32 of these precious jobs. If he were to tell the Dolphins to pound salt -- as satisfying as that might be -- there are no guarantees he would get another shot to be a head coach.

The thing about Sparano is that many Dolphins love playing for him -- even if their disgusting 38-7 loss to the New England Patriots in the season finale didn't show it. He's a fiery leader. He's a man's man. He cares.

Maybe the players will rally around him.

At this point, that's about all the support Sparano can draw from. He and the rest of the world know the other important people in that facility wanted to dump him.

Tony Sparano looks like dead man coaching

January, 5, 2011
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Tony Sparano can't be feeling too comfortable right now.

The Miami Dolphins head coach should feel like Tony Soprano in the HBO series' final scene. He's scanning the room for all the people who might be set to whack him.

Then the screen goes black.

Sparano is in an unenviable situation. He's either about to get fired or kept around with full knowledge the Dolphins didn't think he was good enough.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is pressing to convince Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh to come aboard. Two sources told Mortensen that Ross, associate and former Kansas City Chiefs president Carl Peterson and general manager Jeff Ireland flew to the West Coast to pitch Harbaugh with an offer that would make him the NFL's highest-paid coach.

Mortensen estimated the offer would be worth between $7 million and $8 million a year. Forbes magazine ranked New England Patriots boss Bill Belichick the NFL's highest-paid NFL coach at $7.5 million a year. Belichick was second only to Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson in all sports.

The Dolphins can't make the hire right away. They still would need to satisfy the NFL's requirements under the Rooney Rule, which mandates a minority candidate be interviewed for head coach vacancies.

A source with knowledge of the process informed me Wednesday afternoon the Dolphins have not initiated talks with any minority candidates and wouldn't be required to do so until Sparano has been dismissed.

Mortensen added Ross intends to keep Ireland as GM, a development that turned off Bill Cowher. The former Pittsburgh Steelers coach reportedly wants to select his own GM.

Sparano needs to be put out of his misery soon.

If the Dolphins can't close the deal on Harbaugh or Cowher or any other big-name candidate and Sparano keeps his job, how will he be able to connect with his team?

Players will know ownership wanted to upgrade, that it preferred somebody else. That, plus back-to-back 7-9 seasons mean Sparano will have lost his locker room for sure.

Running back Ricky Williams and former Dolphins pass-rusher Jason Taylor criticized Sparano's micromanaging style in radio interviews this week.

Whatever message Sparano tries to deliver now will resonate even less than before.

At this point, Sparano can't win.
The Scott Pioli administration is rolling in Kansas City.

On the eve of the team's biggest game in four years, the Chiefs made an important move by securing running back Jamaal Charles for five years. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Charles was inked to a $32 million deal, which includes $13 million in guaranteed money.

Charles
This is a move that should help keep the Chiefs competitive for years to come. Kansas City is 8-4 and has a two-game lead in the AFC West heading into Sunday’s game against the Chargers, who are tied with Oakland for second place in the division at 6-6.

There’s no downside to this deal for the Chiefs. Charles is a special player. In his third NFL season, Charles has developed into one of the most explosive tailbacks in the NFL. He is third in the NFL with 1,137 yards rushing. He leads the league with a whopping 6.2 yards per carry average.

Charles was part of the last draft class put together by the Carl Peterson regime. Charles was selected with a pick acquired in the Jared Allen trade with Minnesota. While Pioli didn’t pick Charles, he gets credit for ensuring Charles will remain a Chief. Pioli has done a nice job of keeping the team’s core players. Linebacker Derrick Johnson was recently given an extension.

This is a young team with a great future. Keeping an ascending player like Charles is just another reason why this a program to watch in the NFL.

Flowers blooming for Chiefs

November, 5, 2010
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There is no doubting that the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense is much improved.

Flowers
Flowers
You can credit several people. New defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has his unit playing disciplined, timely football. Third-year defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey is having a breakout season. Linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson are both playing at an All-Pro level. Rookie safety Eric Berry is showing why he is the No. 5 overall pick. They all deserve their due credit.

But don’t forget the play of third-year cornerback Brandon Flowers. He’s been outstanding. Perhaps overshadowed in a division teeming with strong cornerback play, the 5-foot-9, 187-pound Flowers has been fantastic this season. He is a big reason why Kansas City is 5-2 and heading into a crucial game at 4-4 Oakland on Sunday.

He is getting high, I mean, high, praise.

“Brandon Flowers is exceptional,” Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. said. “He’s not very known, but he is playing terrific football. He’s playing better than (New York Jets Darrelle) Revis and as good as Nnamdi (Oakland’s Asomugha). He’s been that good.”

Revis and Asomugha are routinely considered the gold standards of NFL cornerback play. For Flowers to be compared to these players, is pretty heady stuff.

Flowers has been a contributor since he was a second-round pick in 2008, the final season of the Carl Peterson-Herm Edwards era. Flowers caught heat for poor play in the preseason, but he has been a standout this season.

He is a complete player who gives up little in the pass game who had key interceptions in wins over Cleveland and San Francisco. He has become a stalwart against the run. Kansas City coach Todd Haley said this week that he thinks Flowers is a premier run supporter as well as a fine cover man.

“This guy is a unique, highly-competitive player,” Haley told reporters in Kansas City this week. “You can see that he enjoys and thrives on being challenged. As each receiver group comes into town or we got to town against, the bigger the name the bigger the step up you see from Brandon."

So, when you think about why the Kansas City defense is better and helping the team become a legitimate playoff contender, you have to look at the little cornerback who is on the verge of creating a big name for himself.

Chargers' Antonio Gates is active

October, 24, 2010
10/24/10
3:39
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San Diego tight end Antonio Gates is active and expected to start against New England. He missed the entire week of practice with a toe injury he suffered at St. Louis.

The Chargers will need Gates, even if he’s not at full strength.

San Diego starting receivers Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee are inactive with hamstring injuries. Buster Davis and Patrick Crayton will start for the Chargers.

Naanee is listed as the third quarterback and he could only quarterback if starter Philip Rivers and backup Billy Volek were injured. The team cut No. 3 quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan to make room for kicker Kris Brown.

He will kick for a game or two while kicker Nate Kaeding is out with a groin injury.

In other AFC West related news and notes:

The Kansas City Chiefs promoted receiver Verran Tucker from the practice squad. He is a rookie free agent. To make room for Tucker, Kansas City cut undrafted rookie Jeremy Horne. He was a preseason star, who didn’t make an impact in the regular season. Horne could end up on the Chiefs’ practice squad.

The San Francisco Chronicle has an interesting look at the slow start by No. 8 overall pick Rolando McClain. It’s early, but McClain has not made many big plays.

Apparently, former Kansas City czar Carl Peterson does not have a future with the Dolphins. That marriage has been speculated about since Peterson was shown the door by the Chiefs nearly two years ago.

Draft room tale: 'Boys almost skipped in '02

April, 21, 2010
4/21/10
9:26
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NFC Draft Tale: East | West | North | SouthAFC: East | West | North | South

I've heard so many versions of the story where the Cowboys had a near-miss in the first round of the 2002 draft that I decided to go back for clarification Tuesday. Former assistant director of pro personnel Bryan Broaddus still marvels at how owner Jerry Jones was on the phone with Vikings vice president for player personnel Frank Gilliam, Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson and Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin at the same time.


Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRECowboys owner Jerry Jones was cool and collected despite almost missing a draft pick in 2002.
Jones, who had the No. 6 overall pick, was trying to determine who the Vikings were planning to take at No. 7 before swapping picks with the Kansas City Chiefs (No. 8). Jones found out the Vikings were not going to take Oklahoma safety Roy Williams (they picked Bryant McKinnie), so he traded down to No. 8 and selected Williams. We all know that Williams eventually flamed out in Dallas, but he was considered an excellent choice at the time. The Chiefs selected defensive tackle Ryan Sims No. 6 overall and the Jaguars took Tennessee defensive tackle John Henderson at No. 9.

"It was pretty impressive to see how calm Jerry was while working all those phones," Broaddus told me Tuesday. "You knew right then how good a negotiator he was."

But the Cowboys almost forgot to turn in their trade, which nearly allowed the Vikings to nab the sixth pick. A talented young scout from SMU named Chris Hall strolled into the draft room and asked whether the Cowboys had reported the trade to the league office. And that's when Stephen Jones, Jerry's son, took matters into his own hands.

"Jerry went to sleep at the wheel," former Cowboys scouting director Larry Lacewell told me a couple years ago. "And all the sudden someone shouts that we only have 10 seconds left."

According to Broaddus and at least two other eyewitnesses, Stephen dived across the table to grab the phone and inform the league about the trade. Jerry reportedly sat there with his arms crossed watching the whole thing play out. He'd likely been in tougher spots than this in the oil business.

"That's as close as I ever saw us come to losing one," said Lacewell, who remains close to the Jones family.

With the third-round pick the Cowboys acquired from the Chiefs in that trade, they selected Ohio State cornerback Derek Ross, who didn't pan out. But looking back, the Cowboys are just fortunate they submitted the trade on time. Vikings officials were rushing toward the table to make that No. 6 pick, but Stephen Jones' diving play saved the day.

Draft Watch: AFC West

April, 14, 2010
4/14/10
1:00
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NFC decision-makers: East | West | North | SouthAFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each week leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: Decision-makers.

Denver

This is the only team in the AFC West without a clear-cut draft leader, publicly at least. Coach Josh McDaniels, general manager Brian Xanders and college scouting director Matt Russell are part of the team’s draft decision-making team. Make no mistake, McDaniels plays a very big role in the team’s drafting philosophy as he does in every football decision. The Broncos are reluctant to address who makes the final call, but everything goes through McDaniels. If he doesn’t want to coach a player, he won’t have to. He has a lot of power in Denver.

Kansas City

General manager Scott Pioli makes the call in Kansas City. When the Chiefs hired him away from the New England Patriots -- where he was Bill Belichick’s top lieutenant -- after the 2008 season, it was made clear that he would run the football operations in Kansas City. The Hunt family believes in one-voice leadership. Pioli has embraced his role very well. He is a believer in leadership starting at the top. He runs a tight ship and it is clear he will make the final call. He has a good relationship with coach Todd Haley (whom Pioli hired). I know Haley has some voice in the team’s drafting plans. But it’s Pioli who pulls the trigger on the draft decisions.

Oakland

Is there any question about this? There may not be a more undisputed leader than Al Davis on any professional team. This is Davis’ show. Davis, 80, makes the final call on everything in Oakland. He has others in the organization, including coach Tom Cable, do leg work and give input, but Davis doesn’t need any help making the call. There have been pleas from Oakland fans for Davis to hire a general manager, but he has been reluctant to do so. It's clear Davis still relishes making the decisions and he trusts his judgment more than others. Despite slowing down in recent years, Davis reviews film of college prospects and is in constant contact with Oakland scouts.

San Diego

This is a classic leadership situation. A.J. Smith is the general manager in San Diego. He is responsible for making all football-related decisions since he took over in San Diego in 2003. Smith has become known as one of the best drafters in the NFL. He is an aggressive draft-day trader. He has no problem trading up or down. Smith is a very confident leader. He’s in charge and he isn’t afraid of doing his job.

Draft Watch: AFC West

March, 10, 2010
3/10/10
12:00
PM ET
NFC Recent History: East | West | North | SouthAFC: East | West | North | South

Draft Watch: Biggest needs (2/17) | Busts/gems (2/24) | Schemes, themes (3/3) | Recent history (3/10) | Needs revisited (3/17) | Under-the-radar needs (3/26) | History in that spot (3/31) | Draft approach (4/7) | Decision-makers (4/14) | Dream scenario/Plan B (4/21)

Each Wednesday leading up to the NFL draft (April 22-24), the ESPN.com blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today’s topic: recent history.

Denver: While examining the last three years of Denver’s drafting, it has to be considered that there are two different philosophies in play. Josh McDaniels took over in 2009 after the 14-year Mike Shanahan era. If there is any difference, it is that McDaniels seems more interested in stockpiling picks than Shanahan, who would trade many picks. Still, McDaniels showed he is not afraid of being aggressive, either. He traded this year’s top pick (No. 14) on draft day to take cornerback Alphonso Smith at No.37 because he thought Smith was a top-tier player who slipped into the second round. Like Shanahan, McDaniels likes offensive players. Six of Denver’s 10 picks last year were offensive players, despite a greater need on defense.

Kansas City: Like Denver, there was a change of leadership last year when Scott Pioli took over for Carl Peterson. Like Peterson’s final years, Pioli’s first draft in Kansas City valued defense over offense. At No. 5 in 2008, Peterson took defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey. In 2009, Pioli took defensive linemen Tyson Jackson at No. 3. Kansas City has the No. 5 overall pick this year. Don’t expect the Chiefs to take a defensive lineman for the third straight year. In fact, Kansas City may look at offensive needs with the pick. I'd bet Pioli rotates from offense to defense throughout the draft this year more than he did last year. Last year, Pioli’s first three picks were on defense. Then, his next four picks were on offense. The Chiefs’ last pick was a kicker. With needs on the offensive line, linebacker, receiver and safety, expect Pioli to address all of those needs early.

Oakland: The Raiders have valued offensive skill-position players in the past three years. Since 2007, Oakland has had the No. 1, No. 4 and No. 7 picks in the first round. It has taken quarterback JaMarcus Russell, running back Darren McFadden and wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with the picks. While none of those players have shown they were worthy of the top choices, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Oakland uses is top pick this year, No. 8 overall, on a key offensive position: left tackle. Oakland has ignored that pressing need for several years. It may not be able to avoid it this year. Perhaps this will be the year Oakland hits the jackpot when using a high pick on an offensive player.

San Diego: San Diego has been very balanced in the past three drafts. Chargers general manager A.J. Smith has valued both offense and defense. San Diego has had a total of 20 picks in the past three drafts. It has taken 10 offensive players and 10 defensive players. The Chargers have had solid success in recent drafts as well. Thirteen of the 20 players appear to be decent picks. Smith also has been aggressive. He has shown he is not against moving up into the second and third rounds to get a player he has targeted, such as Eric Weddle in 2007 and Jacob Hester in 2008. San Diego hasn’t taken a classic tailback high recently. Expect that to change this year when the Chargers address the position in either the first or second round.

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