This week's "Six Points" covers Johnny Football, uncertainty among offensive coordinators, Ron Rivera's defensiveness, that other Indy quarterback and more.
Even as Teddy Bridgewater has flatlined somewhat with his recent performance, the Minnesota Vikings feel secure they have their quarterback; they have no regrets at this stage. However, let us remember that before the Vikings traded back into the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, they first attempted to trade up to get Johnny Manziel. They failed to get a deal done, and the Cleveland Browns got their man. And there were a couple of other teams intrigued by Manziel, such as the St. Louis Rams and the Dallas Cowboys.
So while Manziel returns to the field Sunday as the Browns' starting quarterback, it is fair to speculate that he's auditioning not just for Cleveland but also for the Cowboys or another team in 2016.
One prominent team executive believes Manziel probably can't do enough on the field "under the reality that he's just not playing with a very good cast around him" to make a convincing case that he is indeed the quarterback of the future for the Browns. "He would almost have to be spectacular and the Browns win games we don't expect them to win. And even then, to what extent has [Manziel] burned bridges there where no matter what he does, either the present regime or the next regime will still be looking for another guy?" the executive pondered, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
The Browns, at this rate, will be in position to take one of the projected top quarterbacks in the 2016 draft, whether it's Connor Cook (Michigan State), Jared Goff (Cal), Christian Hackenberg (Penn State) or Paxton Lynch (Memphis). Ironically the Cowboys also figure to be in a top-10 position to draft a quarterback who can be groomed as a successor to Tony Romo. Only it's unlikely Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones is going to spend a top-10 pick on a quarterback if he's staring at a number of nonquarterback players who can help push Dallas to that Super Bowl level.
The same team executive said the Browns can probably eventually entice Jones to offer a conditional fourth-round draft pick for Manziel, even with the knowledge that the former Texas A&M quarterback was the top-rated player on the Cowboys' board in 2014. Jones also showed everyone he was thinking team ahead of heart when he relented to select Notre Dame guard Zack Martin, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
The Cowboys' failures this year with backup quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel have only helped the case for Manziel as a candidate to become Romo's backup and possible successor. Sometimes the obvious is just that -- obvious.
No stability for offensive coordinators
Different weeks bring different offensive coordinator changes. Last week the Miami Dolphins fired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and replaced him with Zac Taylor. This week the St. Louis Rams fired offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and replaced him with Rob Boras.
Who knows what other team will change offensive coordinators next week, but chances are, someone will. Just look at what has happened in this league and the instability that has rocked that particular job.
Only eight offensive coordinators -- one quarter of the league -- have held their jobs longer than two seasons. The excellent eight: New Orleans' Peter Carmichael, hired in 2009; Carolina's Mike Shula, hired in 2011; Seattle's Darrell Bevell, hired in 2011; Pittsburgh's Todd Haley, hired in 2012; New England's Josh McDaniels, hired in 2012; Arizona's Harold Goodwin, hired in 2013; Kansas City's Doug Pederson, hired in 2013; and Philadelphia's Pat Shurmur, hired in 2013.
The other 24 teams -- 24! -- have all made at least one offensive coordinator change within the past two seasons.
There are a few things to consider here. For starters, offensive coordinators are under as much fire as NFL head coaches, many of whom are fired the week after the regular season ends. Also, look at the teams that now have the league's longest-tenured offensive coordinators: They are some of the league's most successful teams. Carolina, Seattle, Pittsburgh, New England, Arizona, Kansas City all have had continuity and stability. There appears to be a connection between the two.
Of course, none of the aforementioned offensive coordinators ever should become too comfortable in their role. If we have seen nothing else in this and other seasons, there is more pressure than ever before on offensive coordinators to produce.
Martin following Ingram
Though Saints running back Mark Ingram won't be playing Sunday against Tampa Bay, Buccaneers running back Doug Martin should be paying close attention to him.
In 2011, the Saints traded their second-round pick and their 2012 first-round pick to the Patriots to move up to draft Ingram at the end of the first round. Yet three years later, the Saints declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Ingram's contract, setting him up to hit free agency. Then, the week before he did, Ingram signed a four-year, $16 million deal that included $7.6 million guaranteed with the Saints.
The first part of Martin's story is similar to Ingram's. In 2012, the Buccaneers traded their second-round pick and swapped fourth-round picks with the Broncos to move up to draft Martin at the end of the first round. Yet three years later, the Buccaneers declined to pick up the fifth-year option in Martin's contract, setting him up to hit free agency. Since then, Martin has responded with his best season since his rookie year. Now Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith has said it is a priority to retain Martin, which was not the case last offseason.
It would not be surprising to see Ingram's deal serve as a model for Martin's before free agency this winter. And chances are Martin will not mind if his career continues to mimic that of Ingram in the form of a new deal.
Why Ron Rivera was defensive
The intensity of coach Ron Rivera's response to another question about whether the Panthers exercised caution with Cam Newton during Sunday's game might have caught some off-guard, but then there are a handful of reminders as to why Rivera felt insulted by a query that could have been classified as routine by media standards.
Rivera let the medical staff on hand do their job when Newton had a couple of hard hits that were head-related. And it is safe to give Rivera the benefit of the doubt. Ask Luke Kuechly. Kuechly had never missed a high school, college or pro game when the linebacker was diagnosed with a concussion in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The assumption for many observers -- many of them in the media -- is that Kuechly would be just fine and playing soon enough.
Only there was a conversation that occurred behind the scenes that certainly suggested Rivera was prepared to play it conservatively with one of the league's premier defensive players. That conversation didn't occur with a doctor or with Kuechly himself. It was with Kuechly's father, Tom.
"I heard the concern in a father's voice and I told him, 'Don't worry. I'm going to take care of your son,'" Rivera said. "We're all parents. I happened to play the game. I happened to play that position, [linebacker,] so I know the amount of physical contact that comes with it. We were going to play it cautious with Luke, just as we would with any player in that situation."
Kuechly didn't miss just one game. He missed three games and also was held out of practice for the Panthers' Week 5 bye before he was allowed to return to play. He was sidelined 34 days, proof that not only is this is a new era of head trauma awareness but that Rivera is a man of his word.
Oddly enough, Kuechly's absence has made the value of other Panthers come into focus, such as cornerback Josh Norman, defensive tackle Kawann Short and especially Newton, who is a leading MVP candidate. And that's not to mention that Rivera also is positioned as the coach of the year -- not that he's even thinking about it. Not his style.
Form a line for Hasselbeck
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay made another unique investment last week when he bought former Beatle Ringo Starr's first Ludwig drum set for $1.75 million, which basically reunites The Beatles' instruments in Irsay's personal museum. He already had purchased guitars played by the three other Beatles -- Paul McCartney, the late John Lennon and the late George Harrison.
If Irsay made a better investment this year, it was in 40-year-old quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was re-signed as the team's backup quarterback for $3 million. In fact, Hasselbeck might have made himself a little more money, because the Colts have gone 4-1 with the veteran behind center with Andrew Luck out. Two general managers said that if Hasselbeck has the desire to play another season, he will have an opportunity to be one of the more valued free agents.
Both GMs had similar thoughts. Don't lose your mind. Hasselbeck is not going to get a $100 million contract, but he very well could get a deal that pays him as much as $5 million to serve as a backup on a contending team. One GM even said Hasselbeck probably could have saved the job of former Titans coach Mike Munchak in 2013 if the team had not asked him to take a pay cut down to $1.5 million. He was willing to stay, but the team made a weak effort to get a deal done despite Jake Locker's early injury history. That's when Hasselbeck signed with the Colts.
Incidentally, the Titans could fix that mistake and try to entice Hasselbeck to come serve as the backup to Marcus Mariota, and it helps that Nashville was a city where his family was happy. Hasselbeck's value is not just limited to his ability to still physically play well, when necessary, even though less is always best for a 40-year-old. By almost any account, he is a model mentor and locker room leader.
One GM even suggested it was short-sighted to look at Hasselbeck as simply a mentor for a team with a young quarterback. He said Hasselbeck also would be ideal for an established quarterback who is going through a coordinator change.
One example: Matt Ryan of the Falcons. As he goes through transition in Atlanta with Kyle Shanahan, the other voices in the quarterback room are young guys. Who can Ryan confide in; who can relate to this type of change? One football man said Hasselbeck would have been an ideal partner for Ryan. Others are out there.
How the NFL sees Heisman finalists
They will be in New York this weekend and on the minds of NFL personnel men for months to come. They are the most celebrated players in college football this season and will be some of the most scrutinized pro prospects in this or future offseasons. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey are not eligible for 2016 NFL draft. But Alabama running back Derrick Henry is. And NFL scouts already have reports written up on him.
Here's what some NFL personnel people said about the three leading contenders for the Heisman Trophy, which will be awarded Saturday night in New York:
Alabama RB Derrick Henry: At 6 feet 3, 242 pounds, Henry is a forceful, powerful running back who is known to fall forward at contact for extra yards. One personnel executive said this week that Henry is a bigger but less nifty version of former Ohio State standout running back Eddie George. Henry also drew comparisons to former giant Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, who backed up Cadillac Williams and Ronnie Brown at Auburn. Henry is considered a great worker, a willing blocker and a positive personality who now could go "probably in the 20s in the NFL draft, maybe 10-20, best case," per an executive. Another scout pegged Henry as a logical second-round pick. But after leading the nation in rushing with 1,986 yards and breaking the single-season SEC rushing record, Henry projects as no worse than a second-round pick and NFL starter.
Clemson QB Deshaun Watson: An underclassman, NFL personnel men haven't spent as much time on Watson this year as they will next year, when he could be eligible for the 2017 draft. One NFL executive said Watson had a "fluid motion, a tall angular build, but some of the questions that people have about quarterbacks in a spread offense will persist with him once he comes out for the draft." Still, NFL scouts believe Watson has a live arm, superb character and is now the top dual-threat quarterback at the college level.
Stanford RB/WR/KR Christian McCaffrey: Like Watson, another underclassman who has not gotten the amount of attention from the NFL that he will next season. But those who have watched McCaffrey this season said he would fit into any NFL backfield, whether it was serving as a third-down back in Minnesota with Adrian Peterson, or a rotating back in Arizona with David Johnson and Andre Ellington, or even in New England doing everything the Patriots would ask. "He can be that complimentary piece where he went in the NFL," one personnel executive said. His father, Ed, was a Super Bowl-winning wide receiver for the Denver Broncos, and his mother, Lisa, was a standout soccer player in high school in Florida before playing at Stanford. "That's why Ed and I got together," Lisa once told a reporter, "so we could breed fast white guys." And Lisa's father, Dave Sime, won a silver medal in the 100 meters at the Rome Olympics in 1960. Not many come from a better gene pool than McCaffrey.