NFL

NFL AM: Coaching Carousel Continues To Spin

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What once was a litany of job openings across the NFL dwindled to just one on Thursday, as four of the six remaining teams without coaches made their decisions.

First, the New York Giants officially announced the promotion of offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo to the head coach position. Shortly thereafter the San Francisco 49ers put an end to their search, announcing the hiring of Chip Kelly as their head man.

Two more teams made their decisions in the early evening. The Philadelphia Eagles tabbed Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson as their head coach and seemingly moments later the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made one of the worst kept secrets in the league official, promoting offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to head coach to replace Lovie Smith, who was abruptly fired a week ago.

Those hirings leave just one NFL head coaching opening, the Tennessee Titans.

EAGLES SETTLE ON PEDERSON

After seemingly being left at the altar by their first few choices, the Philadelphia Eagles finally landed their man on Thursday, choosing a familiar face as their next head coach.

Following rejections by Adam Gase, Hue Jackson, Ben McAdoo and Tom Coughlin, the Philadelphia Eagles finally found someone willing to take their job: Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. According to multiple reports, Pederson will be named the next head coach of the Eagles at the conclusion of the season for the Chiefs, who play in the divisional round of the playoffs on Saturday at New England.

Pederson spent four years on Andy Reid’s staff in Philadelphia from 2009 to 2012, two as an offensive quality control coach and two as quarterbacks coach, before Reid was fired by the Eagles. He then followed Reid to Kansas City, where he has served as the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs for the last three seasons.

Pederson, a long-time backup quarterback, also has a history with the Eagles as a player. He was signed by the Reid-led Eagles in 1999 to serve as the stopgap quarterback for rookie Donovan McNabb. Pederson ended up starting nine games for the Eagles that season, during which time Philadelphia went 2-7. That was the fifth of 10 seasons Pederson spent in the league, most of them in Green Bay as the backup to Brett Favre. In fact, he only started 17 games total and two of his three wins came with the Eagles.

After retiring and spending several years coaching at the high school level, Pederson was brought back to Philadelphia by Reid in 2009 to serve as a quality control coach for the offensive. He spent two years in that position before being promoted to quarterbacks coach in 2011. The Eagles offensive soared in Pederson’s first season as QB coach, but after a poor 2012 season, the entire coaching staff was dismissed. Reid landed in Kansas City and brought Pederson on there to serve as the offensive coordinator. There he has helped the Chiefs offense complete a drastic turnaround, coming for dead last in points scored when he and Reid arrived to among the Top 10 in that category in two of those last three seasons. With those points have come playoff berths for Kansas City and acclaim for Pederson.

Though he has not served as the offensive play-caller for the Chiefs, as Reid has handled those duties, the former quarterback is praised for his work with KC quarterback Alex Smith. The former No. 1 overall pick has found a home in Kansas City after being kicked to the curb by the 49ers. Under Pederson’s tutelage, Smith has been remarkably consistent, with three straight 3,000-yard seasons after having just one in his career prior. He’s also completed 60 percent of his passes each of the last three seasons, and 65 percent the last two and kept his interceptions down while throwing for a total of 61 touchdowns over three seasons.

His quarterback expertise could be beneficial to Philadelphia as the Eagles enter the offseason with question marks at the position for the fourth straight season. Quarterback Sam Bradford is a free agent and Philly will have to decide if he is worth what should be a lofty price tag considering how rare it is that starting quarterbacks hit the free agent market. Speculation should begin soon as to whether Pederson will bring one of his quarterback pupils from Kansas City with him to Philadelphia.

The top candidate for such a move would be Chiefs backup Chase Daniel, who drew rave reviews during training camp and preseason and who was getting buzz to replace Smith as the starter before Kansas City began an 11-game win streak that has carried them through the first round of the playoffs. Daniel is at the end of a three-year, $10 million contract to serve as Smith’s backup. He ended up starting just two games over those three seasons and went 1-1.

Pederson is also renowned for his work with the Chiefs running game. Despite the loss of star running back Jamaal Charles this season, Kansas City has seen continued production out of their running back group, getting the most out of undrafted Charcandrick West and practice squad signee Spencer Ware. That bodes well for the Eagles, who have a loaded backfield with DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles all under contract for next season. It’s been speculated that Philly will look to move one of those players this offseason, but if Pederson can figure out a way to incorporate all three into his game plan, something his predecessor Chip Kelly could not do, they could make the Eagles offense dangerous again.

With those three running backs, tight end Zach Ertz, who came on strong at the end of the season and could fill the Travis Kelce role in Pederson’s offense nicely, and several young wide receivers, the Eagles have the makings of a dynamic offense that could bounce back strongly in 2016.

It remains to be seen who Pederson will pick for his staff, that won’t be known until after he is released from his duties in Kansas City and can officially join the Eagles, but he’ll need a strong defensive coordinator to rescue what was one of the league’s worst defense for the third straight year. It’s an important offseason in Philadelphia, one that started off rough with repeated rejections, but Doug Pederson has the potential to be a good fit if the Eagles can put the right people around him.

BUCS OFFICIALLY PROMOTE KOETTER

One week after abruptly firing coach Lovie Smith, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the only move that could make Smith’s dismissal make sense, promoting offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to head coach.

“When I started this search for a new head coach, the focus was on finding someone that could be a strong leader as well as a consummate teacher, and Dirk is both,” said General Manager Jason Licht. “He brings the passion and drive that will re-energize our organization and help us establish the winning culture that will help us become the championship-caliber team that our fans deserve.”

The Bucs dragged out the search for their 11th head coach for a week, but the truth is Koetter was the guy all along. Tampa Bay only fired Smith to ensure they could keep Koetter, who was getting looks from other teams, most notably the Miami Dolphins. So the Buccaneers did what they needed to do to retain Koetter, promoting him after just one season as their offensive coordinator.

For Tampa Bay, this move is all about continuity for quarterback Jameis Winston. They decided that having the same offense in place for Winston from Year 1 to Year 2 was more important than having the same leadership structure in place. That’s why although Smith did an impressive job in his lone year as Bucs coach, guiding a team expected to finish among the worst in the league to a 6-10 season, during which they briefly flirted with contention before a flat finish. While Smith probably wasn’t deserving of his fate and his work with the team should be praised, so too should Koetter’s. His work with the offense, which finished the season ranked fifth in the NFL in yards per game, is a big reason the Bucs gained four wins this season.

“We are excited to announce that Dirk Koetter will lead the Buccaneers as our new head coach,” said Buccaneers Co-Chairman Joel Glazer. ”Dirk has established himself as one of the top offensive coaches in our game while enjoying success at every stop during his college and NFL career. His success with our offense last season, along with his familiarity with our players and our organization, makes Dirk the right man to lead our team moving forward.”

Koetter’s work with Winston is especially important. The rookie signal caller completed a solid first season with more than 4,000 yards passing, completing better than 58 percent of his passes. He threw for 22 touchdowns and although he made some rookie mistakes, leading to 15 interceptions, he showed the type of poise and intangibles along with the skills to justify his selection at the top of the 2015 Draft.

Like many of the offensive coordinators hired for head coaching gigs this offseason, Koetter is touted for his work with quarterbacks. Before tutoring Winston, he spent three years in Atlanta getting the very best out of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. How Koetter and Winston build on the quarterback’s rookie season will be vitally important to the success of the Bucs going forward.

So too will be how the Bucs delegate defensive duties after the departure of the defensive-minded Smith. While Tampa Bay had a Top 5 offense in terms of yardage last season, they also had a Top 10 defense in terms of yards allowed thanks to Smith and his staff. It’s been speculated that Koetter could turn to Mike Smith, his former boss in Atlanta, to lead the Tampa Bay defense. The two have a long history together, including time in Jacksonville and Atlanta. If Koetter can get this Smith, another one of the top defensive minds in the game to Tampa Bay, it could go a long way toward making people forget about the way he and the Bucs did the other Smith.

DIVISIONAL ROUND INJURY REPORT: BROWN OFFICIALLY OUT

If the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to go into Denver and beat the league’s best defense to book a spot in the AFC Championship game, they’ll have to do so without the help of their top offensive player.

Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown has officially been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Broncos with a concussion, suffered late in last Saturday’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals on a brutal late hit by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. The hit drew a 15-yard penalty that moved the Steelers into range for the game-winning field goal, but Brown’s health and absence going forward is a hefty price to pay. Brown remains in concussion protocol, so his status if the Steelers were to win on Sunday and advance remains unknown. But for at least one do-or-die game, Pittsburgh will be without the AFC’s leading receiver this year.

Sunday’s other game, between the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks, could see the long anticipated return of another star. Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch has declared himself ready for the divisional round rematch between the Panthers and Seahawks, after missing last week’s heart-stopping Seattle win over Minnesota. Lynch reportedly texted ESPN’s Kenny Mayne “I’m ready,” as is relates to the status for the game.

His return from an eight-week absence with an abdominal injury would be a welcome one for a Seahawks team that struggled to move the ball against the Vikings last week, especially on the ground. Seattle will be faced with another of the league’s best defenses in Carolina, making it an all hands on deck situation, and a healthy Lynch could prove to be the difference in what’s expected to be the most hotly contested game of the weekend.

Saturday’s playoff slate begins with the playoff opener for the defending Super Bowl champions and there are some question marks on their offense as they get ready to host the Kansas City Chiefs. Of particular note is the status of quarterback Tom Brady’s two top targets. Julian Edelman is expected to return from his own eight week absence with a broken foot, and how he adjusts in his first game back could be a key factor in the game.

Additionally, the Patriots added tight end Rob Gronkowski to the injury report on Thursday with knee and back injuries. Gronkowski did not practice Thursday and reportedly spent part of the day at a local hospital getting treatment on his right knee. This after he was held out of practice Tuesday and participated on just a limited basis on Wednesday. New England still expects Gronkowski to be a go come Saturday, but if he is limited in any way by injury, it could prove to be a fatal blow to the Patriots hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champions.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys