NFL

NFL AM: Lovie Smith Fired By Tampa Bay

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers Fire Lovie Smith:

In what was a very surprising move, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers decided to part ways with head coach Lovie Smith two days after the dreaded, “Black Monday.”

The Buccaneers showed improvement going from just 2-14 in 2014, to 6-10 in 2015, but it wasn’t enough to save Smith’s job after the team finished the season on an uninspiring four-game losing streak. Co-Chairman Joel Glazer announced the move via a statement from the team Wednesday night, making Tampa Bay the seventh team looking for a new head coach.

“After careful consideration, we informed Lovie that we have decided to make a change, Glazer said in a statement. “I want to thank Lovie for his hard work and dedication to the Buccaneers during his time here. This decision was difficult on a variety of levels. I am disappointed that we were not more successful these past few seasons, but we are committed to doing what is necessary to give our fans the winning team they deserve.   As we move forward, General Manager Jason Licht will oversee the process for finding our next head coach.”

Much of the speculation among Tampa fans and media is that the team may have released Smith in an effort to retain Dirk Koetter by promoting the team’s first-year offensive coordinator to head coach.

While the Buccaneers saw vast improvement from their 2-14 record a year ago, much of the improvement came on the offensive side of the ball where Smith was admittedly very hands off, and Koetter was key.

In 2014, Tampa Bay’s offense was over 16 percent worse than league average, but in 2015, the team was 6 percent better than league average, representing the biggest offensive turnaround in team history.

Defensively, where Smith took over play calling from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, the team was awful again. While the Bucs lacked talent in key positions on defense, Smith was never able to clean up or hide any of his team’s deficiencies through play calling, something Koetter was able to do in his first year running the Buccaneers offense.

In the end if this isn’t a move to retain Koetter, than it makes this firing very puzzling. Bringing in a head coach from outside the organization likely means starting over on both sides of the ball, and starting over offensively and making Jameis Winston learn a second offense in his second season would be a terrible decision.

Calvin Johnson is contemplating retirement:

There are times when we get leaks or reports that an all-time great is considering retirement, and then there are times when we get much more concrete evidence that a special talent is considering call it quits.

Wednesday was one of those days, as Detroit Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson released a statement that shocked the football world as much as any head coach getting fired. The all-world Lions receiver may have played his last down of football in the NFL.

“Like many players at this stage of their career, I am currently evaluating options for my future,” Johnson said. “I would expect to have a decision regarding this matter in the not-too-distant future.”

This would be a blow to the Lions, who are coming off of a tough season; to Detroit, who can use all the heroes they can get; and for the NFL, who doesn’t have many guys who play the game the way the eight-year veteran does.

Johnson is the anti-receiver, receiver. While the position is known for “divas” whose mouths are every bit as active or dangerous as their hands, the Lions’ great went about his business in a quiet way. Few players have been dominant with more class.

The Lions obviously would love to have their star receiver back in the fold for as many years as possible, but they’re not rushing a decision out of the future Hall of Famer.

“We obviously have profound respect for Calvin and certainly understand and appreciate his decision to give proper thought and consideration to his football future,” the Lions said in a statement released by the team.

Johnson has been everything the Lions had hoped he would be since drafting him second-overall in the 2007 NFL Draft, catching no fewer than 67 balls every season since his rookie year, while only failing to reach 1,000 yards receiving as a rookie, and again in a 14-game 2009.

Detroit quarterbacks have found the star wide receiver for touchdowns 83 times in just eight seasons, and it’s possible they’ve found No. 81 for the last time.

Sean Payton returning to New Orleans:

The situation in New Orleans between the Saints and head coach Sean Payton is just weird. Like Chuck Pagano and the Indianapolis Colts think it’s weird.

Just as it seemed inevitable to everyone outside of Indy that Pagano was going to get canned at season’s end, the writing seemed to be all over the wall for a Saints – Payton split.

This thing had all the twists and turns of high school dating, as there were reports that Payton had sent out feelers to the San Francisco 49ers that he might, you know, kind of think they were cute if the Saints broke up with him, and the Saints supposedly let teams know that they could be persuaded to let him walk for a second-round pick. You know, and like, if you carried their book bags or something.

In the end the Saints and Payton decided they couldn’t live without each other, and the coach gave New Orleans the promise ring of press conferences, promising they’d someday have to drag his carcass out of town.

“This is where I plan on coaching. I don’t envision myself coaching any other club,” Payton said. “Here I am and nothing is changing and I plan on finishing my career here. … I’ll be here as long as they’ll have me.”

But Payton didn’t stop there. He laid it on as thick as humanly possible, just in case you didn’t believe him.

“Leave early a hero, stay late and become a villain,” Payton said. “And if I have to someday become that villain, then I plan on staying until everyone says, ‘We’re burning your wagon out of town.’ And I’m comfortable with that.

“There’s more moments, there’s more wins, there’s more playoffs. I promise you there will be. It will be not a secret formula. It will be the same formula we applied when we first got here.”

Now that the Saints and their head coach are on the same page, they’re going to have to figure out what the heck to do about their quarterback. Drew Brees proved this season that he can still get it done if there’s enough talent around him. The problem is they won’t be able to afford to have much talent around him at the quarterback’s current salary. Brees is scheduled to account for $30 million against the Saints 2016 salary cap. A number New Orleans obviously can’t afford to pay him and still rebuild the putrid defense.


About Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan

Pat Donovan has covered the NFL for almost a decade and is a host and producer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers radio flagship 620WDAE/95.3FM. Pat covers the NFC South and NFC East for Football Insiders. Follow him on Twitter, @PatDonovanNFL.