Monthly Archives: January 2019

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Matt LaFleur still needs to hire a special-teams coordinator and fill a few low-level positions on his coaching staff, but two weeks after he was hired as the Green Bay Packers’ head coach his first staff has taken shape.

Here’s a look at where things stand and which positions still need to be filled:

Offense:

Coordinator

Who’s in: Nathaniel Hackett

Who’s out: Joe Philbin

While Hackett has never worked with LaFleur, they share the same background in the West Coast offense. Hackett’s father, Paul, coached under Bill Walsh. LaFleur learned the system from Kyle and Mike Shanahan (who also was schooled in the Walsh offense). Hackett’s hiring was made official last week. Philbin, who went 2-2 as interim head coach this past season after Mike McCarthy was fired, recently cleaned out his office at Lambeau Field and has been released by LaFleur.

Quarterbacks

Who’s in: Luke Getsy

Who’s out: Frank Cignetti, Jim Hostler

Getsy served as the Packers’ receivers coach from 2016 to ’17 before leaving to become offensive coordinator at Mississippi State. He’s returning, sources told ESPN, to coach Aaron Rodgers and the other quarterbacks. Rodgers, who called Getsy “an unsung hero for us this year as a coach” after the Packers beat the Cowboys in the 2016 playoffs also said that Getsy has “gotten those guys ready to play and we’ve got great contributions from a number of guys.” Cignetti spent only one season on the Packers’ staff. Hostler, who worked closely with the quarterbacks as the passing game coordinator, also was released. He was hired by the Panthers to coach receivers.

Running backs

Who’s in: Ben Sirmans

Although it hasn’t been announced yet, he will be one of the few holdovers from McCarthy’s staff, sources told ESPN last week. Sirmans completed his third season with the Packers and helped developed Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.

Offensive line

Who’s in: Adam Stenavich

Who’s out: James Campen, Jeff Blasko

LaFleur rolled the dice on going with a young coach who knows the system over the experienced Campen, who was a favorite of both the linemen and Rodgers. Campen was quickly hired by the Browns as associate head coach/offensive line and took Blasko (assistant O-line) with him to Cleveland. Stenavich, a Wisconsin native who was on the Packers’ practice squad in 2006 and 2007, was an O-line assistant with the 49ers, where he coached in the Shanahan/zone-blocking scheme that LaFleur plans to employ. The move, first reported by NBC Sports Bay Area, was confirmed by ESPN.

Receivers

Who’s in: Unknown

Who’s out: David Raih

LaFleur let Raih leave for the Arizona Cardinals, where he was reunited with new coach Kliff Kingsbury. The two worked together at Texas Tech. Raih coached receivers for only one season after Getsy left but had been with the Packers in various offensive coaching capacities since 2014.

Tight ends

Who’s in: Justin Outten

Who’s out: Brian Angelichio

Outten worked with LaFleur when both were on the Falcons’ staff in 2016, when LaFleur coached quarterbacks and Outten was a coaching intern. The move was first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday. Up to that point, Angelichio had been in limbo but now will be free to pursue other jobs. Like most of McCarthy’s staff, Angelichio was under contract through the 2019 season, meaning he will be paid by the Packers if he doesn’t land another job.
Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will be one of the few holdovers from Mike McCarthy’s staff. AP Photo/Mike Roemer
Defense:

Coordinator

Who’s in: Mike Pettine

LaFleur’s first move was to retain Pettine for a second season in charge of the defense. In Pettine’s first year, the defense made a modest jump from 22nd to 18th in the league in yards and from 26th to 22nd in points allowed. It did so despite an inordinate number of injuries and without a dominant edge rusher.

Defensive line

Who’s in: Jerry Montgomery

Pettine and LaFleur valued the work Montgomery did with Kenny Clark, who is on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowler, and how he developed younger players such as Dean Lowry and Tyler Lancaster after Clark, Mike Daniels and Muhammad Wilkerson — the three opening-day starters — all were lost to season-ending injuries. Montgomery’s re-hiring has not been officially announced yet by LaFleur but was first reported by ESPN. Montgomery has been with the Packers since 2015 in various positions with the defensive line.

Linebackers

Who’s in: Kirk Olivadotti

Who’s out: Patrick Graham, Scott McCurley

Graham is expected to become the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator once they’re able to officially hire New England’s Brian Flores as head coach after the Super Bowl. McCurley was told he would not be retained after 13 years with the Packers in various capacities. Olivadotti, the son of a longtime NFL defensive coach, worked with LaFleur on the Redskins’ staff in 2010. He had two separate stints with Washington totaling 16 seasons. The move has not been announced yet but has been confirmed by ESPN.
Defensive backs

Who’s in: Jason Simmons

Who’s out: Joe Whitt Jr.

Simmons, who oversaw both cornerbacks and safeties last season, is expected to be retained, sources told ESPN, but LaFleur dismissed Whitt, who was almost immediately hired by the Browns as pass game coordinator/defensive backs coach. Whitt, who had been with the Packers since 2008, finished second to Pettine for the defensive coordinator job in 2018 but became the defensive pass game coordinator. It’s unknown if LaFleur will use those titles on his staff.

Special teams

Who’s in: Unknown

Who’s out: Ron Zook

LaFleur almost immediately fired Zook, who had run the Packers’ special teams since 2015, and then interviewed highly regarded Dolphins special-teams coach Darren Rizzi. However, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Rizzi will not be joining the Packers. Given how poorly the Packers’ special teams have performed, this is a key hire for LaFleur, who said: “I want to attack matchups on special teams. And we always talk about ‘penalty-free aggression.’ We want to make sure that we are playing aggressive, but we’ve got to be smart. We don’t want to put ourselves in negative situations.” Special-teams assistant Maurice Drayton’s status is unknown.

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The seven-win turnaround of the Cleveland Browns in 2018 gave their fans plenty to cheer about and great hope for the future, and much of the excitement was fueled by their first-round draft picks of the past two years. The Baltimore Ravens weren’t to be overlooked, either, after storming from behind to overtake the Pittsburgh Steelers and win the AFC North crown.

Coach of the year — John Harbaugh, Ravens: An argument can be made that Harbaugh should be the NFL Coach of the Year, not just of the division. He put together his best coaching job in his 11th season in Baltimore, leading the Ravens to the playoffs by overcoming distractions and pressure-filled situations. Many teams would’ve fallen apart at the bye, when Baltimore faced a three-game losing streak, questions about Harbaugh’s job security and a hip injury to starting quarterback Joe Flacco. But Harbaugh rallied the team around rookie QB Lamar Jackson and a new offensive scheme, which transformed a 4-5 team into a playoff contender. There had been questions about Harbaugh’s future in Baltimore because the Ravens had gone 40-40 in five seasons since winning the Super Bowl (2013-17), including a three-year playoff drought before the season. But, in 2018, Harbaugh left no doubt that he remains among the upper echelon of coaches in how he steered a struggling team to the division title.

Division Award Winners

Some postseason awards are easy to pick — defensive player of the year in the NFC West? It’s easily Rams DT Aaron Donald. Other awards? Wide open.

Offensive MVP — Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: Pittsburgh relied on Roethlisberger’s arm more than ever in 2018. Big Ben was prolific as a passer in his 15th season, leading the league in passing yards (5,129), completions (452), attempts (675) and interceptions (16). Roethlisberger’s 34 touchdown passes were a franchise high. Without running back Le’Veon Bell in the lineup, Roethlisberger and the Steelers decided to increase the quarterback’s workload with a combination of no-huddle offense, five-wide sets and screen passes that served as de facto running plays. This was especially the case on the road, where Roethlisberger averaged 49.2 attempts in each of his last five full games away from Heinz Field. Roethlisberger’s rib injury cost the Steelers a loss in Oakland and a playoff berth. If the 9-6-1 Steelers had qualified, Roethlisberger and the offense would have been among the most dangerous attacks in the AFC. Despite the turnovers — including four red zone interceptions — Roethlisberger gave the Steelers a chance in every game. Five of the Steelers’ six losses were decided by seven points or fewer. In achieving his first 5,000-yard passing season, Roethlisberger proved no quarterback in the AFC North was better.
Defensive MVP — Myles Garrett, Browns: Garrett reached the Pro Bowl in his second season, but the star pass-rusher said he has bigger goals. Among them: All-Pro, Defensive Player of the Year, a playoff run and a championship. As for his 2018 season? “B-minus,” he said the day after the season. Because? “Thirteen and one-half [sacks] is all right,” he said. “I had a couple of TFLs (tackles for a loss) to go along with it. It is a good year. It was not great. It was not bad. Right there in the middle.” Garrett is hard on himself. He came within one-half sack of matching the team record held by Reggie Camp. Garrett’s 13½ sacks were the most by a Browns player since 1984, and came with frequent chips and double-team attention. Garrett was the first overall pick in the draft in 2017, and the only thing that held him back as a rookie was a sprained ankle and concussion that forced him to miss five games. In his second season, he started every game, often playing more snaps than most of the other defensive linemen. Garrett’s 1,012 snaps put him on the field for 86 percent of the Browns’ defensive plays.

Rookie of the year — Baker Mayfield, Browns: Terrell Suggs summed up the feeling about the AFC North’s future after he battled to stop the team’s rookie quarterback in Baltimore’s season ending win over the Browns. “Everybody knows the history of football in Cleveland, and that guy is going to be something for years to come,” Suggs said. Suggs’ assessment was shared by many, as team after team praised the play of Mayfield. In a season in which Nick Chubb came 4 yards short of 1,000 and Lamar Jackson changed the Ravens’ season, Mayfield had the finest rookie season for a quarterback in NFL history, setting a rookie record with 27 touchdown passes and throwing a touchdown pass in each of his 13 starts. Mayfield didn’t just energize a team — he energized a city. He lived up to the billing of the first overall pick and guided the Browns to the biggest season-to-season turnaround in team history.

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SEATTLE — The Arizona Cardinals are on the clock.

The Cardinals secured the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NFL draft after losing to the Seattle Seahawks, 27-24, on Sunday at CenturyLink Field to end their season 3-13.

EDITOR’S PICKS

2019 NFL draft order: Top 24 picks set; Cardinals get No. 1
Arizona is on the clock for the 2019 NFL draft. Here’s what the order looks like now, with projections for picks 25-32.

Seahawks kicker Sebastian Janikowski kicked the 33-yard. game-winning field goal as time expired.

They’ll have the top pick in the draft for the first time since 1958.

With Arizona the only three-win team heading into the weekend, the San Francisco 49ers, New York Jets and Oakland Raiders were in a three-team race for the second spot, which was determined by strength of schedule. The 49ers will pick second based on their .504 strength of schedule, with the Jets (.506) and Raiders (.545) picking third and fourth.

A look at the tentative draft order of the top 20 spots:

2019 NFL Draft Order
The 2019 NFL draft order after Sunday’s early games. The loser of Sunday night’s Colts-Titans game will pick No. 20. Picks 21-32 will be determined by the losers of each playoff round with the Super Bowl champion picking No. 32 overall.

TEAM, RECORD
1. Cardinals (3-13)
2. 49ers (4-12)
3. Jets (4-12)
4. Raiders (4-12)
5. Buccaneers (5-11)
6. Giants (5-11)
7. Jaguars (5-11)
8. Lions (6-10)
9. Bills (6-10)
10. Broncos (6-10)
11. Bengals (6-10)
12. Packers (6-9-1)
13. Dolphins (7-9)
14. Falcons (7-9)
15. Redskins (7-9)
16. Panthers (7-9)
17. Browns (7-8-1)
18. Vikings (8-7-1)
19. Titans (9-7)
20. Steelers (9-6-1)

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The door has been left ajar. Eli Manning’s future with the New York Giants remains uncertain going into this offseason.

That is where everything stands on Jan. 3, which just so happens to be Manning’s 38th birthday. He has one year remaining on a contract that has a no-trade clause and will pay him $17 million if he’s on the roster for the 2019 season.

Except there are no guarantees. Manning initiated a sit-down with general manager Dave Gettleman on Monday that was extensive and “no-holds-barred,” according to Gettleman. There was no resolution on Manning’s future by the end of the meeting.

The Giants at this point aren’t sure who will be their starting quarterback for the 2019 season.

“I can’t answer that question,” Gettleman said, “because I don’t know what the field is right now.”

Gettleman and the Giants will go through their evaluation process before a final decision on Manning’s future is solidified. Manning wants to play. “I do. I do,” he said during an interview with Mike Francesa on Wednesday on WFAN.

The Giants can cut Manning and save $17 million against the salary cap. They could also try to trade him (they’re unlikely to find a taker, given his age and salary) or bring him back at a reduced price. That might work for Manning. Make no mistake: He wants to return.

These are all options. But the ball appears to be in the Giants’ court when it comes to bringing Manning back for a 16th season. They have a key decision to make, and there are positives and negatives to each side of that decision.
In his 15th season with the New York Giants, Eli Manning completed 66 percent of his passes for 4,299 with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Steven Ryan/Getty Images
Pros for returning
Experience: Gettleman described Manning as a “mensch.” Because he is. It’s the way Manning carries himself and the person he is that warrants that Yiddish designation. As coach Pat Shurmur has noted on multiple occasions, Manning handles himself as the ultimate professional.

The Giants appreciate this, especially from their quarterback. Manning plays a difficult position and does so in New York, which is among the toughest markets. He handles all the extracurricular stuff with ease.

If the Giants bring in a new quarterback, who knows how that newcomer will handle the pressure and the demands? Manning is a known quantity in this regard. There would be no such concerns if he returns. There would be no slip-ups and/or growing pains. Manning also wouldn’t need time to acclimate to the offense or his receivers like a new quarterback. Continuity and experience are positives for Manning in this instance.

2019 NFL DRAFT

When: April 25-27
Where: Nashville, Tennessee
How to watch: ESPN/ESPN2/ESPN App

• Draft order: Picks 1-20 set »
• McShay’s Mock Draft 1.0: Going 1-32 »
• Meet the 2019 quarterback class »
• Kiper & McShay: 2019 draft primer »
• Kiper’s Big Board » | McShay’s Top 32 »
• Tracking underclassmen declarations »
• More NFL draft coverage »

Still something left? The first half of the season was a disaster for Manning and the Giants. He threw eight touchdown passes in eight games, and they went 1-7 before the bye week. The offensive line was in shambles, and Manning was a mess. He was sacked 31 times in the first eight games, and the Giants failed to score more than 20 points in six of their seven losses.

It got better in the second half, when the offensive line solidified, and Manning was sacked only 16 times. He threw 13 of his 21 touchdown passes in the final eight weeks. Given more time and with the offense adjusted to take pressure off the quarterback, there was more success. The hope if he returns can be that they found a workable formula that Manning and the Giants can build off and try to duplicate next year. Maybe there is one more quality year or run left in that arm and body.

Clean break: The Giants have been careful about what they said about Manning this season, even when he struggled. This wasn’t an accident. This is an organization cognizant of public perception, especially when it comes to the greatest quarterback in franchise history. They know it was a bad look the previous season when he was effectively benched for Geno Smith.

If Manning returns for 2019, it would make the cord-cutting perhaps as clean as possible. He plays out the final year of his deal (and perhaps mentors the quarterback of the future), and next offseason they can move on with minimal repercussions. Manning’s contract will have expired, and after 16 seasons, most will accept that it’s time to move on after two Super Bowls and a storied career that could land Manning in the Hall of Fame.

Cons for returning
Really, again? Gettleman mentioned Wednesday the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. He was talking about cutting bait quickly on some of his own mistakes this season, but that logic can be applied to Manning as well this offseason. If the Giants trot Manning out again behind an average or subpar offensive line, why would anything change, even if he does have perhaps the best weapons in the league? Working with Odell Beckham Jr., Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard wasn’t enough for Manning to lead anything more than a middling offense over the course of a 16-game season. And that was after an awful 2017 season as well.

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The Giants tried to make it work with Manning. They drafted a running back No. 2 overall and an offensive lineman in the second round. They signed Beckham to a long-term deal and made Nate Solder, at the time, the highest-paid offensive lineman in NFL history. They’ve used four of their past five first-round picks on offensive players. It hasn’t worked. Maybe it’s time to take a different approach with the most important position on a football team. Otherwise, they could be sitting out the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years.

Deteriorating play: Say what you want about Manning, but he isn’t playing at the level he was during the Super Bowl seasons. He’s just not. Some of it is a result of Father Time. It catches up to everybody in this game. Manning is 38 years old now and less mobile than ever. His arm, while still serviceable, is not as strong as it once was. He struggled in inclement weather this season and is quick to bail with a defender in his face.

Whenever anything is off schedule, it’s a dead play for the Giants with Manning. It’s hard to operate with these deficiencies in today’s game, in which there is more passing and a higher demand on rushing the passer. Quarterbacks are consistently under pressure, and a premium is put on being able to avoid the rush. Even Manning’s own coach prefers a more mobile quarterback.
That is — and never was — Manning’s strength. Now, he’s no longer a top-half-of-the-league quarterback. He isn’t making enough plays. Andy Dalton and Carson Wentz finished tied for 17th in the NFL with Manning after throwing 21 touchdown passes. The problem: Dalton and Wentz each played in 11 games. This might be the most compelling of all reasons to move on if the Giants want to win. Scoring points by throwing the ball around the yard is the name of the game these days. Manning hasn’t consistently made enough plays in recent years.

No hope: Those on the Giants’ roster the past few years have experienced little success. They never won Super Bowls with Manning (aside from Zak DeOssie), and their eight wins the past two seasons are fewer than that of any team besides the Cleveland Browns, who were winless in 2017.

It’s a hard sell to that locker room for the Giants to come back into next season with most of the same key pieces, including the quarterback. Earlier this season, there were doubts from more than a few players about whether they could still win with Manning as the quarterback. Was some late-season success enough to completely erase those doubts? What happens when the Giants inevitably struggle offensively at some point next season? The doubts will resurface. This needs to be factored into the equation as the Giants make their decision on Manning’s future.