NFL Nation: Jimmy Raye

The San Francisco 49ers' reported contract extension for offensive coordinator Greg Roman appears well earned.

Under Roman, who arrived with coach Jim Harbaugh before the 2011 season, the team has set franchise records for offense while setting an NFL standard for creativity within the running game especially.

Former quarterback Alex Smith set a single-game NFL record for completion percentage (minimum 15 attempts) by connecting on 18 of 19 passes against Arizona last season. The 49ers set a franchise record with 621 total yards against Buffalo, becoming the first team in NFL history to amass 300 yards passing and 300 yards rushing in the same game. Roman's 49ers also set a franchise playoff record with 579 yards against Green Bay last season.

San Francisco has also won with quarterbacks of vastly different styles and experience levels, realizing immediate gains under difficult circumstances, notably the labor lockout that inhibited preparation just as the Harbaugh era was beginning.

As the chart shows, the 49ers under Roman have made double-digit gains in key offensive categories relative to where the team stood over the previous two seasons. That includes jumping from 25th to third in rushing yards, 22nd to fourth in time of possession, 25th to ninth in Total QBR, 18th to fourth in NFL passer rating, 32nd to 19th in first downs, 21st to ninth in points per game and 13th to second in interception rate.

Oddly, the 49ers haven't improved much, if at all, in third-down conversion rate, red zone touchdown percentage or goal-to-go touchdown percentage. Lagging in these areas could reflect a play-it-safe philosophy for a team stronger on defense and in the running game than it often has been at quarterback.

Smith ranked 22nd in Total QBR (45.8) in 2011 before improving to seventh (70.1) last season. Colin Kaepernick was third at 76.8. Still, the 49ers ranked just 25th in third-down conversion rate and 21st in the red zone in 2012. The team will presumably realize gains in those areas if Kaepernick represents a significant upgrade over time.

Roman, meanwhile, has a deal through 2015. He'll presumably receive a raise, plus public affirmation of his standing after the team added Eric Mangini as senior offensive consultant. The contract would not prevent Roman from accepting a head-coaching job in the future, should he have the opportunity.
TelescoBrian Spurlock/USA TODAY Sports"Its my job to know the league," said GM Tom Telesco. "... It's my job to study rosters every day."

When Tom Telesco received an interview for the San Diego Chargers’ vacant general manager post in January, it was considered a terrific opportunity in the career of promising young front-office man.

Telesco wasn’t considered a sure bet to be hired to pump life into a stale franchise after the 10-year A.J. Smith era. But Telesco took control of his future and essentially stole the job.

It was well known that the Chargers were focused on removing Smith and head coach Norv Turner. Longtime personnel man Jimmy Raye was widely considered as a slam-dunk to be promoted. The Chargers were fine with the front office as a whole. They figured Smith’s time with the team had run its course and that the bigger issue was finding a replacement for Turner.

Then, Telesco interviewed. Everything changed. Telesco opened the Chargers’ minds. Perhaps an outside voice to lead the front voice was exactly what the team needed. And in a big upset, the Chargers named the 40-year-old Indianapolis front-office man to replace Smith.

The surprise hiring was met with applause from around the league. Telesco was a career front-office man and a protégée of former Colts’ general manager Bill Polian. Telesco was known for a keen scouting eye and was credited with helping turn the Colts back into a playoff team by restocking the roster.

“Tom has that no-stone-unturned mindset,” said Ryan Grigson, his boss in Indianapolis last year. “Tom never stops working. That's what the Chargers are going to appreciate. If I asked Tom if this guy could play or not, an hour later I was getting a text from him or he was knocking on my door, giving me a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down. Tom is a bright, bright, bright guy with a great work ethic.”

[+] EnlargeSan Diego's D.J. Fluker, Manti Te'o and Keenan Allen
AP Photo/Denis PoroyESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay praised Tom Telesco's first draft with the Chargers.
Ownership was reportedly blown away by Telesco's knowledge of the Chargers' roster during his interview. The Spanos family was stunned by his vision for the team moving forward.

I asked Telesco about that, and he brushed it off.

“It’s my job to know the league,” said Telesco, polite as always. “I have to know that stuff. It’s my job to study rosters every day.”

Polian, now an ESPN analyst, wasn’t surprised that Telesco impressed the Chargers. Telesco first joined the NFL with Carolina in 1995 when Polian ran the Panthers. He followed Polian to Indianapolis in 1998.

“Tom knows the league, he does what it takes to be good at his job,” Polian said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s level-headed. He’s a great judge of talent … He will be great in San Diego.”

His first offseason in San Diego has been positive. He received kudos for tabbing heavily sought-after Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy to coach the team. Chargers employees tout Telesco, who played receiver at noted NFL coaching and front-office factory John Carroll University in Ohio, as friendly. They say he has re-energized a building that lacked excitement at the end of the Smith era.

Most league observers believe the Chargers, who have gone three seasons without making the playoffs, had one of the best drafts in the NFL. The Chargers scored big in the first three rounds with the selections of Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker (first round), Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o (second) and California receiver Keenan Allen (third). ESPN analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper both said during the draft that Telesco got three first-round picks with his first three choices. Telesco aggressively went after Te’o, who was falling, and traded up on the clock to take him.

Telesco was less aggressive in free agency. The cap-strapped Chargers were active, but they didn’t make many splashes. They did get several players who should help right away, starting with cornerback Derek Cox, guard Chad Rinehart and running back Danny Woodhead.

San Diego has not sufficiently addressed its biggest need yet: left tackle. Free-agent signing King Dunlap is currently expected to start there even though he is not considered a solid option. In Telesco’s defense, the Chargers never really had a great chance of adding a top option at the position because of cap issues and because the top three draft options were gone after the first four picks of the draft.

Regardless of whether the Chargers enter Telesco’s first season a finished project, he promises to continue to approach the job his way.

“(I) come into work every day trying to find the best players we can,” Telesco said. “Part of building chemistry with the team and the team process is getting to know the coaches well, getting to know the scouts, the front office. That's all part of team building for me. It's just trying to get to know everybody really well.”

Finding next home for 49ers' Alex Smith

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In eight seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, Alex Smith has played for three head coaches, seven offensive coordinators and six quarterbacks coaches (seven if you count Pep Hamilton, who helped Jim Hostler coach the position in 2006).

These many associations would seem to increase exponentially the number of likely landing spots for Smith as a free agent or trade candidate this offseason.

A closer look suggests that might not be the case.

Smith's connections with former head coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary would actually deter reunions. Neither would be in position to push for landing Smith, anyway. Nolan's Atlanta Falcons don't need a quarterback.

Former 49ers offensive coordinator Norv Turner could potentially need a quarterback in Cleveland. The team's other former Smith-era coordinators wouldn't be in position to help. Mike McCarthy's Green Bay Packers are obviously set at the position. Mike Martz is a color commentator for Fox. Hostler coaches wide receivers for the Joe Flacco-led Baltimore Ravens. Jimmy Raye worked last season as a senior offensive assistant with Tampa Bay. Michael Johnson was out of the NFL.

Hostler and Johnson were also among the Smith-era quarterbacks coaches in San Francisco. Another, Frank Cignetti, coaches the position for the Sam Bradford-led St. Louis Rams. Another, Ted Tollner, is no longer coaching. Another, Jason Michael, coaches tight ends for the Philip Rivers-led San Diego Chargers. Hamilton, meanwhile, is offensive coordinator for the Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis Colts.

Even a run through former position coaches for the 49ers' receivers, tight ends and offensive line turns up more dead ends than fresh leads. Former tight ends coach Pete Hoener coaches the position for the Cam Newton-led Carolina Panthers. Former line coach Chris Foerster coaches the position for the Robert Griffin III-led Washington Redskins. Another former line coach, George Warhop, is with Turner in Cleveland.

The 49ers' longtime former receivers coach, Jerry Sullivan, coaches the same position for Jacksonville. New Jaguars coach Gus Bradley would be familiar with Smith from his days coordinating the Seattle Seahawks' defense. But Jacksonville would make much greater sense as a landing spot for Smith if the 49ers' current offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, had become the Jaguars' head coach. That had been the expectation until the 49ers' deep playoff run complicated efforts to hire Roman.

There still could be a market for Smith, of course. But in a league built on connections and relationships, it's tough to find many likely to influence where Smith winds up next season. That is partly because the 49ers have kept together their current staff under head coach Jim Harbaugh. The coaches most closely associated with Smith's recent revival remain under contract to the team. That was great for Smith when he was starting, but it won't help him find his next job.

Rivers is key for McCoy hire

January, 15, 2013
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The San Diego Chargers won on Tuesday morning.

Will it result in more victories when it counts? That’s the goal, but it is clear the Chargers want to take a young, refreshed approach as they move away from the long tenure of GM A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner that ended with a three-year playoff drought.

[+] EnlargeDenver's Mike McCoy
Byron Hetzler/US PRESSWIRENew San Diego head coach Mike McCoy's biggest job will be getting quarterback Philip Rivers back on track.
And the Chargers want to do it by fixing their 31-year-old quarterback.

Less than 72 hours after Mike McCoy landed on the market, the Chargers plucked the grand prize of the remaining head-coaching candidates by agreeing to terms with the Denver offensive coordinator. San Diego was one of five open jobs when it agreed with McCoy. McCoy had interviewed with four of the five, and the fifth -- Jacksonville -- was hoping to line up a visit.

San Diego finalized its deal with McCoy while Arizona tried to get a second interview with him Tuesday. The Cardinals were his most aggressive pursuer, and they were considered one of the few teams that would have waited for McCoy if Denver had ended up in the Super Bowl. However, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday -- the day of McCoy’s only interview with the Chargers -- that McCoy wanted the Chargers’ job.

And he got it.

His first task will be working with quarterback Philip Rivers.

Heading into the 2011 season, Rivers was considered the best active quarterback without a Super Bowl ring. But Rivers has since become a turnover machine. Still, he is far from a lost cause. He threw just one interception in the final six games of the 2012 season and none in the final four games.

Rivers has seen the talent dwindle around him at essentially every offensive position. It will be up to new San Diego general manager Tom Telesco -- who, like McCoy, is 40 -- to help in the talent area. It is up to McCoy to give Rivers a new life and to give him new philosophies. Rivers has worked closely with Turner since 2007.

Now, McCoy will get a chance to infuse his energy and knowledge into Rivers. This must be the main reason McCoy has been hired. Nothing can turn around a franchise like a top quarterback. Rivers can be that guy again.

Rivers is clearly the reason McCoy wanted the Chargers. Rivers was considered the best quarterback among the five teams without a coach, including Jay Cutler in Chicago. Cutler is younger than Rivers, but he is considered a more difficult personality to work with.

McCoy enters his relationship with Rivers on the heels of two unbelievable quarterback coaching experiences in the past two years. In 2011, McCoy coached Tim Tebow. In 2012, he guided Peyton Manning. He went to the playoffs with both QBs.

McCoy got on the radar as a head-coaching candidate with his Tebow work. In midseason, simply as an act of survival, McCoy scrapped a pro-style offense and scripted an option-based offense that suited Tebow. It worked. Then, in 2012, McCoy got a year into the mind of Manning, the greatest quarterback mind of all time.

McCoy comes to San Diego with quite a résumé and playbook.

For the second time in less than a week, I applaud San Diego for a key hire. The Chargers hired Telesco over longtime A.J. Smith assistant Jimmy Raye. Telesco is known as one of the bright young minds in the league. Going outside of the organization was a smart move for the stale Chargers.

The Chargers talked to several older coaches, including Lovie Smith and Ken Whisenhunt, and the team was planning to talk to Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who worked with Telesco.

But when the young, fresh McCoy became available, he clearly became the Chargers’ target. There’s no doubt the Chargers won the coaching sweepstakes with McCoy, and the reason why is the presence of Rivers. Now, they all have to make it work.

AFC West notes

January, 14, 2013
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Sports Illustrated has reported that former San Diego executive Jimmy Raye has taken over as the vice president of operations for the Colts. That is the job Tom Telesco left to become the Chargers’ general manager. He beat out Raye for the job. Raye was with the Chargers for 17 years.

In a radio interview, Kansas City owner Clark Hunt made it clear the Chiefs would be open to trading the No.1 pick in the draft. That is not surprising, considering that the top talent doesn’t fit with the Chiefs' needs.

But it may be difficult trading the pick because of the lack of a top-draw quarterback and because there are several top defensive players available, so teams may not feel the urge to trade up because there isn’t a clear-cut top prospect.

Fox Sports is reporting Arizona wants to conduct a second interview with Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported that McCoy is eyeing the San Diego job, which he is interviewing for Monday.

The Patriots have added former Kansas City offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. He will start working with the Patriots, who will host Baltimore in the AFC title game, immediately. Daboll was unsuccessful in his one season with the Chiefs.
This is not a knock on Jimmy Raye, the Chargers' director of player personnel.

By all accounts, he has been a terrific employee for the Chargers over the past 17 years and he has all the makings of a fine general manager. With that said, the San Diego Chargers made the right call by bypassing Raye in favor of Indianapolis executive Tom Telesco for their vacant GM job.

The Chargers badly need an influx of outside perspective.

Had Raye been hired (he was considered the heavy favorite), the front office would have largely remained the same outside of the firing of A.J. Smith, who was let go last week after nearly 10 years on the job. The Chargers needed to do more than just moving away from Smith in the front office.

They need a new set of eyes. They need a new philosophy.

I salute them for making this hire. Prior to the search, it was considered nearly a foregone conclusion that Raye would be promoted.

But the search committee, which included former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf, did an excellent job of talking to several outside candidates. From what I understand, Telesco blew the committee away. He was prepared and he had plenty of ideas.

Plus, he already has skins on the wall. Telesco has been credited for helping the Colts turnaround their roster this season.

Like the front office, the Chargers’ roster has gotten stale. With new ideas and experience from another franchise, Telesco can breathe new life into this program.

San Diego owner Dean Spanos told reporters Wednesday that Telesco will run the search for a new head coach, which now begins in earnest. I get the sense the Chargers hired Telesco because they trust he can add something to the program it didn’t have.

I’m not sure ownership believed it was going to find someone so impressive.

The Chargers need Telesco’s eye for talent right away. When he was fired, former coach Norv Turner said he didn’t think the Chargers had the most talented roster in the AFC West for the past three seasons (San Diego didn’t make the playoffs all three years). Turner also said San Diego fans should lean more toward being surprised if the Chargers make the playoffs next year rather than expecting it.

Turner is right. This roster has holes, especially on offense. Quarterback Philip Rivers needs help at nearly every position. Defensively, San Diego is stout. But Telesco needs to score in free agency and in the draft.

He also has to find a strong coach. We will be back with thoughts on that search later. But this is a fine start in San Diego. Telesco’s hiring is the front step in re-energizing this organization.
The San Diego Chargers have begun their front-office restructuring with the hiring of Indianapolis executive Tom Telesco as general manager.

Telesco takes over for A.J. Smith, who ran the team since 2003. Smith was fired Dec. 31, along with coach Norv Turner after the Chargers failed to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

The hiring of Telesco is considered a bit of a surprise. The favorite to get the job was in-house candidate Jimmy Raye. Telesco is well respected and he is credited with helping the Colts’ quick turnaround this season.

I like it. The Chargers need an influx of talent, especially on offense, and getting a pair of eyes from outside the organization should help.

I will have much more on this story upcoming.

Thoughts on Chargers' search

December, 31, 2012
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It is interesting that the Chargers hired longtime personnel man Ron Wolf to consult during the general manager search. Wolf’s son, Elliot, is the Packers’ director of pro personnel. He is young, but he is considered a future general manager. Not sure if the Chargers will consider him.

Last year, Wolf helped the Raiders in their decision to bring in Reggie McKenzie as general manager. McKenzie worked for Wolf in Green Bay and Wolf worked for the late Al Davis in Oakland.

I think Wolf’s involvement in San Diego is a strong indication that in-house candidate Jimmy Raye will have major competition for the job. If the Chargers were sold on Raye, I don’t think Wolf would have been brought in to help.

Expect the general manager search to be fairly fast. The general manager is going to have a say in hiring the coach, so the process has to be swift.

The Chargers may consider keeping defensive coordinator John Pagano and special-teams coach Rich Bisaccia. Both men did a good job with their units. It may be tough for a new coach to keep a large part of the old staff, but perhaps something could be worked out.

I think the Chargers need more offensive help anything.

The old adage in the NFL is teams hire coaches who are the opposite of the discarded coach. Norv Turner was a player’s coach. Will the Chargers go looking for a hard-edged coach?

Finally, change in San Diego

December, 31, 2012
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Another hour, another massive change in the AFC West.

The Chargers just announced they have fired general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner.

Smith was in his role since 2003 and Turner was in his role since 2007. The Chargers went from one of the NFL’s better teams to a team that has not made the playoffs in the past three years.

Turner and Smith were expected to be fired last year, but ownership game them a reprieve. This year, the team had no choice; Turner and Smith had to go. These moves are among the least surprising in the NFL.

This move has been expected for several weeks. Jimmy Raye is a top candidate to replace Smith.

In an interesting development, the Chargers have hired former Oakland and Green Bay personnel guru Ron Wolf to help with the general manager search, along with owner Dean Spanos, his son John Spanos and cap man Ed McGuire, who will stay. That many mean that Raye is not a slam dunk. The general manager will then help hire a coach.

So, the Chargers will keep the power structure of the coach reporting to the general manager.

Here is a statement from San Diego owner Dean Spanos: “I thank A.J. and Norv for the determination and integrity they brought to the Chargers each and every day. Both Norv and A.J. are consummate NFL professionals, and they understand that in this league, the bottom line is winning. My only goal is the Super Bowl, and that is why I have decided to move in a new direction with both our head coach and general manager positions. I am committed to our great fans, and we will do whatever we possibly can to achieve that goal.”

More reports of Chargers changes

December, 6, 2012
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This is what happens when a team is 4-8 in a season that it must make the playoffs.

Reports of demise flood in.

In the latest evidence that coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith are entering their final four games with the team, U-T San Diego reported that ownership has decided to fire both. The report said that the decision to fire Smith has come after the decision to ax Turner, but both will suffer the same fate. This jibes with what ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Sunday.

This is no surprise and few in San Diego will complain. In our AFC West poll this week, a whopping 94 percent voted that both Turner and Smith should go. The two were given a surprising reprieve last year. That won’t happen this year after yet another disappointing season.

Like Mortensen did, U-T San Diego reported that San Diego personnel man Jimmy Raye will take over for Smith. The Chargers will search for a new coach in January.

What’s left for Turner and Smith in San Diego? Four more uncomfortable weeks.

UPDATE: San Diego owner Dean Spanos just released this statement: “There is only one person in this organization who will make those decisions and that’s me, and I haven’t shared my thoughts with anyone. I will make my evaluations at the end of the season. Anything coming out now -- from sources or otherwise -- is pure speculation.”

In other AFC West news:
  • Linebacker Derrick Johnson (hamstring), safety Abram Elam (quad), cornerback Brandon Flowers (hamstring) and center Ryan Lilja (knee) all missed practice for the second straight day Thursday.
  • For San Diego, tackle Mike Harris and linebacker Donald Butler (groin) were among the players who missed a second straight day of practice. Butler is likely out. Harris has a slight chance to play Sunday at Pittsburgh.
  • As expected, the Chargers will face Pittsburgh starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday. He has missed the past three games with rib and shoulder injuries.
  • Kansas City running back Peyton Hillis had a humorous retort to the comments of Cleveland tackle Joe Thomas, who said Hillis let his contract situation affect the team. Hillis and the Chiefs visit Thomas and the Browns on Sunday.
At long last, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a defensive coordinator.

The team reportedly has hired Bill Sheridan, who recently had been hired by Urban Meyer as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator. But Sheridan is jumping to the Bucs before he even coached a game with the Buckeyes.

This is a big move for Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano, who had been unsuccessful in pursuing several candidates for the position. Although Schiano has taken some criticism for having a staff dominated by his former assistants at Rutgers, the hiring of Sheridan gives him another coach with deep NFL ties.

Sheridan had been the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants in 2009. Prior to that, he was linebackers coach in New York for four seasons. He was linebackers coach for the Miami Dolphins in 2010.

The Bucs also reportedly have hired former NFL linebacker Bryan Cox as a defensive assistant. The addition of Sheridan and Cox gives Schiano’s staff a stronger NFL flavor. In addition to his Rutgers assistants, Schiano also has hired former Giants quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan as offensive coordinator. He’s added former NFL head coach Butch Davis as a special assistant and long-time NFL assistant Jimmy Raye as a senior offensive assistant.
The Chicago Bears have released a preliminary list of candidates to replace former general manager Jerry Angelo. All four have been granted permission to interview with the team, but a statement on the Bears' website made clear that additional candidates have not been ruled out and that current director of player personnel Tim Ruskell remains in play.

The four outsiders are:
I don't want to pass much judgment on this list because I don't totally know what the Bears are up to. It's unusual for a team to announce its full slate of candidates for such an important job. Is this a new era of transparency? Or could there be a stealth candidate they're distracting us from? Call me a conspiracy theorist, but lots of crazy stuff happens this time of year. Could it be an attempt to demonstrate due diligence before ultimately hiring Ruskell?

There have been rumblings that Ruskell has a better-than-even chance to get the job. Let's just say that the Bears haven't stacked the deck with this pool. None of the four has experience as a general manager.

The most intriguing candidate might be Ross, who has been a rising star since the Philadelphia Eagles made him the league's youngest college scouting director in 2000, when he was 27. He is a Princeton graduate and has a master's degree from the University of Massachusetts.

Stay tuned.
Those unsightly, overly tight shorts seen on football coaches over the years should have a new name: amicus briefs.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, coaches did not reject those violators of style as strongly as they have attacked a legal document purportedly filed on their behalf.

The NFL Coaches Association and its executive director, Larry Kennan, are taking shot after shot over the amicus brief they filed supporting the players' position against the lockout. The St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals have let it be known that their staffs, like a growing list of others, did not know about or support the filing. And as DiLune2 pointed out in the comments section of this item, Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll tweeted that he didn't know of it, either.

The brief argues that the lockout inflicts "irreparable harm" on coaches, primarily assistants new to their teams, by preventing them from preparing for the upcoming season. The brief points to high turnover rates for coaches and claims that assistants are increasingly vulnerable to firing when their teams fail.

The NFLCA also filed an amicus brief against NFL owners in the landmark American Needle case, but the lockout has made this a far more sensitive time for coaches to speak up. My take and a few notes on the situation after speaking with Kennan, assistant coaches and team executives:
  • Coaches are ultimately more loyal to their employers than to the NFLCA, which is not a union. Many fear for their jobs and are not comfortable speaking up at this time, or any time. Some resent the fact that the NFLCA filed this brief without soliciting more input from coaches or at least getting ahead of the story through better public relations. Kennan said he followed standard procedure, going through his executive committee and emailing all coaches, including head coaches, with the necessary info. But quite a few have been on vacation, and some felt this was a bad time to make waves.
  • The brief struck a nerve with owners. Teams continue to release statements saying their coaches oppose the filing. Coaches would not be making these statements without pressure from their owners, in my view. The league doesn't want to fight the labor battle on more than one front. Teams think the lockout will help the league reach a more favorable agreement. In turn, they think a more favorable agreement would benefit assistant coaches by growing the NFL's portion of the revenue pie.
  • Kennan and the NFLCA have expressed fear in the past that resounding NFL victories on the antitrust front would allow owners to continue taking away some of the victories coaches have scored on the benefits front. As Kennan sees it, the league has already reached into coaches' pockets by threatening pensions and writing lockout clauses into contracts.
  • The Washington Redskins were the first team to release a statement repudiating the filing. Kennan: "Once the Redskins did this, the owners have gotten to their guys and said, 'We need this, too.' What are the coaches going to do, say no?"
  • I suspect Kennan underestimated the response this filing has generated. In retrospect, he should have finessed this story from the front end, better informing his membership. Kennan sounds undeterred, saying, "There is no reason a coach ought to come out and say he is publicly not for this because it can only be good for coaches. Ownership would like to see us go away because we have raised salaries and we create problems for them because I can speak for coaches when they can’t speak for themselves. I exist so the coaches don’t have to be heroes and fight the owner one on one. They can deny they agree with anything I have said, and it’s OK."
  • Kennan says the coaches would come out against the players if the players were striking. He says they took that stance during the 1987 strike. But it's also true that the NFLCA works out of the NFLPA offices and uses NFLPA resources. Why? Kennan says the league never offered to assist.
  • In my experience, older coaches better appreciate the significant strides assistants in particular have made in commanding bigger salaries. Veteran coaches such as Jimmy Raye, who heads the executive committee, and Howard Mudd, also an NFC West coaching alum, are among the coaches who have been most strongly aligned with the NFLCA. Younger coaches are also involved, but some of them are more likely to envision themselves rising quickly through the ranks without NFLCA support.

The fallout from this amicus brief filing will presumably diminish over time. Owners can have long memories, however, and if their emotions come into play on this issue, coaches could still pay. While it's true that a larger NFL revenue pie could benefit coaches, unbridled league power on the antitrust front could give teams more power to act unilaterally toward coaches -- for better or worse.
Warner/BradfordUS PresswireThe Cardinals are still searching for Kurt Warner's replacement, while the Rams hope a coordinator change doesn't stunt Sam Bradford's growth in St. Louis.
The usual NFL offseason narratives aren't so alluring now that the league has locked out players and banned roster transactions. That is bad for the NFL and a downer for those dependent upon the hope each offseason sells.

Quite a bit of that hope turns out to be misplaced, however.

Free agency no longer commands widespread appeal as a primary route to improvement. The two most recent Super Bowl teams, Green Bay and Pittsburgh, have had little use for the unrestricted market. Both have built largely through the draft.

The draft is part of the offseason, of course, but relatively few choices make significant contributions right away. Most enter the league as long-term investments.

Rookies were not going to shape the 2011 season, either, lockout or no lockout.

What are we really missing as a sleepy May sets up what could be a comatose June? Well, the prevailing NFC West storylines from last offseason stand as cautionary tales:

Arizona Cardinals

Delusional 2010 storyline: Matt Leinart's time had come. As the thinking went, Kurt Warner's retirement cleared the way for Leinart to realize the potential Arizona had seen in him when the Cardinals drafted him 10th overall in 2006. I wasn't entirely sold on the idea, but neither was it reasonable to think the Cardinals would demote Leinart during the exhibition season and then cut him when making the mandatory reduction to 53 players. Leinart signed with Houston, but did not attempt a regular-season pass in 2010. He can become an unrestricted free agent once the lockout ends, provided players with five accrued seasons qualify. It's doubtful any team would sign him as a starter. So much for the thought that Leinart would blossom once freed from Warner's shadow.

Post-lockout storyline to resist: A new quarterback fixes everything. The Cardinals will presumably move aggressively to upgrade at quarterback once the signing period opens. The move will restore hope. While even moderate improvement at quarterback could get Arizona back into NFC West contention, it will be premature to recast the Cardinals as Super Bowl contenders again. Warner was a special player. He covered for weaknesses elsewhere on the roster. His stellar record in postseason play made the Cardinals viable in ways the team's next quarterback likely will not.

San Francisco 49ers

Delusional 2010 storyline: Having the same offensive coordinator in back-to-back seasons will be key. Quarterback Alex Smith and his offensive teammates were working from the same playbook in consecutive years for the first time. The 49ers loved the way Smith was "taking ownership" of the offense during camps. There were reasons to expect improvement upon the 8-8 record San Francisco posted in 2009. Instead, Smith and the 49ers fell apart during the season opener against a Seattle team with none of the continuity San Francisco spent all offseason talking about. The 49ers' offense was worse against Kansas City a couple weeks later, leading coach Mike Singletary to obliterate continuity as a viable offseason storyline by firing coordinator Jimmy Raye.

Post-lockout storyline to resist: Smith will suddenly shine now that he's finally working under a sharp offensive-minded head coach. New coach Jim Harbaugh has repeatedly praised Smith this offseason, making it clear the 49ers want Smith to return. Smith has said he expects to return, and I understand the 49ers' thinking. They need a veteran quarterback to get them by while rookie Colin Kaepernick develops, and Smith will handle the situation with grace. Harbaugh's feel for quarterbacks does make his pairing with Smith more appealing, but if Smith had the "it" factor, we would have seen more evidence by now.

Seattle Seahawks

Delusional 2010 storyline: Alex Gibbs' addition as offensive line coach will help Seattle build an identity through the running game. The thinking had some merit because Gibbs had been the master of zone-blocking schemes for years, helping teams get solid production without investing heavily in linemen through free agency or with high draft choices. The plan blew up, though, when Gibbs abruptly retired just before the regular season. Guard Ben Hamilton later indicated Gibbs had clashed with management over personnel moves. In retrospect, the pairing of two headstrong offensive assistants -- Gibbs and offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who was subsequently fired -- might not have been the best fit.

Post-lockout storyline to resist: The return of Red Bryant from injury will fix the run defense. No doubt, the season-ending knee injury Bryant suffered against Oakland dealt a significant blow to the Seahawks' run defense. Still, we're talking about Red Bryant here, not Reggie White. Seattle's issues against the run went beyond a single player. Having middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu hobbling through the season on two injured knees also hurt. And without more support from the offense, Seattle became more vulnerable to opponents' rushing attacks.

St. Louis Rams

Delusional 2010 storyline: Sam Bradford is brittle and will not hold up physically. Bradford missed time at Oklahoma, so injuries were a legitimate concern. But anyone who saw Bradford in person at the NFL combine and thereafter realized he was built solidly. And when Bradford stood up to big hits during the exhibition season, the Rams were reasonably confident he could last a full season. Bradford did better than that. He joined Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan and David Carr as the only rookie quarterbacks to take every snap during a 16-game NFL season.

Post-lockout storyline to resist: The lockout and a coordinator change will threaten to send Bradford down the same path Smith's career took with the 49ers. Ideally, Bradford would have continued in the same offensive system he learned as a rookie, spending this offseason working on the finer points of that scheme. Bradford does face additional challenges this offseason, but that does not justify comparisons to Smith. Bradford finished his rookie season with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, while Smith finished his first year with one touchdown and 11 interceptions. Both inherited bad teams, but Bradford walked into a tougher situation: the Rams were 1-15 the year before he arrived.
The San Francisco 49ers' changes at offensive coordinator have become an annual storyline.

The team has gone from Mike McCarthy to Norv Turner to Jim Hostler to Mike Martz to Jimmy Raye to Michael Johnson to Greg Roman since January 2006.

Smith
Bradford
Bradford
The effect on quarterback Alex Smith cannot be quantified, but that much change cannot be a good thing.

The St. Louis Rams almost certainly will not go through as many changes while bringing along their franchise quarterback, Sam Bradford. Still, the change from Pat Shurmur to Josh McDaniels after one season has raised concerns for the short term, particularly with McDaniels looking to re-emerge as a head-coaching candidate -- as was the case with Smith's second coordinator, Turner.

Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo isn't buying the idea that a transition from Shurmur to McDaniels during an NFL lockout will significantly hinder Bradford in 2011.

"This may be some naïve thinking, but I coached two years in NFL Europe and we would go down to Florida with 60 guys, and in three-and-a-half weeks, you cut down to 35 and you play a 10-game season," Spagnuolo said from the NFL owners meeting last week. "That part of it, I have been through it. I certainly don't think that is going to happen. There is a confidence on that side of the ball in our building that if you are smart about how you implement it, go at the pace the players absorb it, I think we'll be fine. It still comes back to throwing it, catching it, running it, tackling."

The Rams' confidence in Bradford lets them feel that way. The coordinator change and ongoing lockout would affect a lesser quarterback to a greater degree.

Injuries prevented Bradford from working extensively with some of his receivers last season. The Rams can feel good about how quickly Bradford developed a rapport with Mark Clayton, even though Bradford was a rookie and Clayton had not run the Rams' offense.

The 49ers' Smith, despite not meeting expectations, improved dramatically in his second season following a coordinator change. He went from tossing one touchdown pass with 11 interceptions as a rookie to finishing his second season with 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Bradford finished his rookie season with 18 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and 3,512 yards.

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