An edge for ex-college coaches?
Mailbag: Condensed offseason is nothing new to Eagles' Kelly, Bills' Marrone
A couple of weeks ago, Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was discussing offseasons under the new collective bargaining agreement.
He made a good point. Head coaches coming from college have an advantage dealing with the new limits on offseason preparation for their teams. The new offseason program must be wrapped up in nine weeks. Coaches have only 10 organized team activity days, a three-day rookie minicamp and a three-day mandatory veteran minicamp.
Plus, any new coach hired after the previous season is allowed to have a voluntary minicamp.
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As Roseman pointed out, those limitations are comparable to what college coaches experience with spring drills. Think about it: A dedicated NFL veteran is asked to go on the field for only 13 days of supervised offseason work, 16 if that player is on a team with a new coach.
Those new rules may not be the reason Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh were able to come from the college ranks and succeed as NFL coaches, but it offers hope for the Eagles with Chip Kelly and the Buffalo Bills with Doug Marrone when you compare them against former coordinators in their first ventures as head coaches.
Experienced coaches can make it work. The Andy Reids, Jeff Fishers, Bill Belichicks, Mike Shanahans and others who have had success in the NFL have been around long enough to make the necessary adjustments. I worry about the first-time head coaches who are already in tough environments.
It's hard to imagine, but the offseason for the Eagles, Chiefs and Cleveland Browns ends Thursday. Kelly, Reid and Browns coach Rob Chudzinksi began their offseason programs April 1. Their three-day minicamps will be held Tuesday-Thursday.
After Thursday, everything is shut down for those teams until the start of training camp toward the end of July. That's a seven-week vacation that will give the young players plenty of time to forget what they learned the past two months.
Things fell apart for Reid in Philadelphia last season as the Eagles dropped to 4-12. Can Kelly's college touch turn around the Eagles, or will the change to a 3-4 defense and the installation of a fast-paced offense overload the players?
In Kansas City, Reid is getting good reviews while picking up Alex Smith and making minor adjustments on offense. On defense, the Chiefs are staying with the 3-4, so it's just a matter of an experienced group learning adjustments from a new coordinator.
Chudzinski faces the toughest challenge. Pat Shurmur lost his job as head coach because of an ownership change and a young roster that wasn't ready for the prime time. Chudzinski is trying to fix the offense and turn a bunch of 4-3 defenders into a 3-4 defense with Ray Horton in charge. Furthering the problem is the competition in the AFC North. Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh have better rosters.
First-time head coaches coming from the coordinator ranks have roughly 2½ years to turn around a losing franchise. If the team isn't .500 or better by the end of the second season, that coach enters his third season on the hot seat, and some don't make the third year.
Most first-time coaches get four-year deals. If success is pending toward the end of the third year, owners are thinking more about changing the coach rather than giving him an extension so he doesn't enter the final year of a contract as a lame duck.
Making it worse next year is the draft being moved back two weeks to May 8-10. That shortens the time new coaches can have their rookies around unless the league adjusts the CBA so players can be around until July. Things wrap up for everyone by the end of the third week of June.
This might make the NFL market for Brian Kelly of Notre Dame, David Shaw of Stanford and others stronger and weaken the desire to hire coordinators.
As we're finding out, the offseason clock is ticking and the time is getting shorter.
From the inbox
Q: I was wondering, with the NFL always trying to increase revenue and keep in the spotlight, if there was any chance they would go to a lottery like the NBA for the top pick in the draft? Maybe during halftime of the Pro Bowl to increase the TV audience, with the top eight picks instead of the top three like the NBA.
Jonathan in Jerome, Ind.
A: I don't see that happening. The NFL believes keeping the worst teams with the best draft choices helps the competitive balance. If most teams have a chance to improve and become playoff contenders, the NFL believes the ratings will be fine. Look what Andrew Luck did for Indianapolis. Knowing the Colts had a chance to draft him allowed Peyton Manning to go to Denver and help the Broncos become the No. 1 seed in the AFC. All those things helped the ratings. To set up a one-time viewership event that would draw ratings at the sacrifice of the season isn't something the NFL would consider.
Ray in Atlanta would like to replace the Pro Bowl with a game between the NCAA champions and the worst team in the NFL. Not a bad idea, but it would be legally tough to have college players who aren't in the union go against NFL players who have the benefits that go with a union. Plus, the college players would have to be paid for that game. If not, it wouldn't be fair. But being paid would affect their amateur status. Brian in Syracuse, N.Y., can't figure out the delay in implementing HGH testing in the NFL. The delay is because the NFL can't implement that system without the NFLPA agreeing to it. Players won't submit to blood testing until they feel totally comfortable with the system of those tests. That's why I'm not sure if the league can get an agreement by the start of the season, but I do believe it will happen at some point. Kunal in Atlanta has been hearing all the talk about the Seahawks and 49ers being the top teams in the NFC and asks if the Atlanta Falcons are becoming the forgotten team. In many ways, they have been the forgotten team. The same might be said of the Green Bay Packers. Jacob in Las Vegas has an interesting point about the Giants' linebackers of the past and present. The Giants have former first-round linebackers Aaron Curry and Keith Rivers on their roster for minimum salaries. He believes the best linebackers of recent Giants vintage were Jessie Armstead, a former eighth-rounder, and Antonio Pierce, who was undrafted. He wonders if that's proof you don't have to draft too high to fill the linebacker voids in a 4-3. To a certain degree, you are right. In a 4-3, you can use younger players and groom them faster instead of drafting them high and putting them in a 3-4. But ultimately, to win, you need good players at most positions.
Q: Why is the consensus about Geno Smith that "there is always next year"? To me, Smith's situation is similar to Jimmy Clausen's in Carolina. Remember Clausen was the "QB of the future" until John Fox was fired and new coach Ron Rivera drafted Cam Newton. I could see the Jets losing 13 or 14 games and firing Rex Ryan and the new coach drafting a new quarterback in the top five.
Wesley in Indianapolis
A: That's an interesting evaluation, and you might be right. So far, Smith is fitting in well with the Jets, but the feeling is that something is missing. Clausen showed potential for the Panthers, but it was only potential. Teams must have felt the same way or Smith wouldn't have fallen into the second round like he did. Smith will be given the benefit of the doubt, but you might be on to something with the comparison to Clausen.
Q: Coaches, players, executives and insiders have all suggested that the read-option quarterback is going to be a thing of the past within the next five years. However, I'm just not sure how that's possible from a schematic standpoint. One would need ultra-athletic linebackers playing spy while getting consistent pressure from a four-man rush, which just hasn't been happening in the NFL. Could you explain how the read option can be neutralized by an NFL defense?
Cal in Los Angeles
A: Watch how the college coaches handle it. The key is protecting the corners of the defense and making sure everyone follows a specific assignment without varying. Someone needs to crash the corner. The spy has to follow the quarterback and make a hit on him. Defenses will start to figure that out and slow down the read option over the next two years.
Q: Clearly the moving of the draft and free agency to later in the league year are clear signs that the NFL intends to eventually extend the regular season to 18 games or add teams to a new playoff format, would you not agree? Also, with that being said, should the NFL Players Association not attempt to at least stall the movement of these events in order to preserve the current league schedule?
Patrick in Columbia, S.C.
A: I would agree. The NFL wants to wait out the players and get them to agree to an 18-game schedule. The league knows now is not the time. The current union leadership is against going to 18 games. But as time goes on and the big money starts coming in from the new TV contracts, the NFL might be able to make an offer the NFLPA might consider. Players are against the 18-game schedule for health reasons. That's understandable. But if the money is right, the players could consider it.
Q: [The NFL should] go with a televised banquet to honor the Pro Bowl players instead of the two-hand-touch game they play now. Some people make the Pro Bowl today because the four people in front of them didn't want to attend. It means nothing. Hold a game in conjunction with the banquet, but let it be potential draft picks (a lot like the Senior Bowl -- or actually make it the Senior Bowl). The pro players don't risk any injuries and the draftees get a chance to meet the best in the business.
Kelly in Mountain Home, Idaho
A: Sad to say, but you probably have the results of what will happen with the Pro Bowl in the next year or two. If the game doesn't get any better, Roger Goodell will probably scrap the Pro Bowl and go with some kind of honors show. The show would be on the eve of the Super Bowl. It would feature the honored players. Top awards would be given out. The league might delay the Pro Bowl announcement so they would be incorporated into that honors show.
Q: With the NFL being a pass-first league now, and so much of that being dependent on timing and good route running, I sometimes wonder why defenses don't jam receivers at the line of scrimmage more. Obviously there is a chance of getting burned, but if the safety knows a jam is coming, he can have the corner backed up just in case. And if it works, the jam gives the pass-rushers an extra second or two while also throwing off the receiver's route before he even gets started. Thoughts?
Daniel in Rome, Ga.
A: Defenses are making that adjustment. Look at the Seattle Seahawks. They are physical and aggressive at the line of scrimmage. The past couple of drafts have offered more man-to-man players, and the trend is trying to land the corners who can jam the receivers at the line of scrimmage. You are right about the impact. Jamming a receiver may leave a defense vulnerable to a big play here and there, but it also throws off the timing of an offense.
Q: The NFL wants to extend the regular-season schedule to 18 games. The players oppose this because of the wear and tear on their bodies. This is shown each year by the large number of players who go on injured reserve. I have a suggestion that I believe addresses both concerns: (1) Expand the regular season to 18 games. (2) Expand the NFL roster to 66 players. (3) Have all teams add $8.25 million to their salary cap, which they should be able to do with the additional revenue from the two games. (4) Force all players to sit out two games -- one home, one away. (5) The games that players would be inactive would be identified before the season started. (6) All players inactive for one of the first four games would be required to be inactive in the same order of the past four games (i.e., Games 1 and 15, 2 and 16, etc.). (7) All teams would be required to have a minimum of seven players and a maximum of eight players inactive for every game.
Joseph in Gaithersburg, Md.
A: Sorry if I cut off some of the benefits of making these moves, but you are on to something. I don't know if $8.25 million of additional cap space would satisfy the players and I don't know if the owners would go for a 66-man roster, but the idea of sitting players for two games has been bounced around and might offer some common ground. If players know they are going to play only 16 games at the most and they potentially can make more money, they might go for it. If the NFL can go with 18 regular-season games and only two in the preseason, it would fit Roger Goodell's concept of good football. You have thought this out well.
Q: I thought your points about free agency spending in your last mailbag were well taken. Taking it a step further, if you review the Super Bowl winners' previous offseasons going back over a decade, you will notice that not one of them had a blockbuster move that "propelled them over the top." The most significant move I could find for a Super Bowl winner was the New England Patriots' acquisition of Corey Dillon way back in the early 2000s. Thoughts?
Shane in Robins Air Force Base, Ga.
A: For those who missed last week's mailbag, I detailed how teams that spent more than $100 million in contracts in free agency usually don't end up with a winning record. For teams to win, they first have to have a good quarterback and they have to draft well. That's why the Ravens, Steelers, Packers and other teams that don't go big in free agency usually have success. Those teams might be willing to add good players in a trade or through a reasonably priced free-agent deal. The Dillon trade was one of the few big additions not from free agency. The Ravens were active this year because they lost half a dozen starters on defense, but, if you noticed, they signed players cut from other teams. Part of the reason for limited activity is most Super Bowl winners over the past dozen years have had high-paid quarterbacks.