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NFL Hot Seats: Kingsbury, Garrett, O’Brien, Patricia


I’ve long maintained (and probably written) that one of the best positions to have in the NFL is that of a brand new head coach or general manager in the weeks after being hired. You’re a genius. You get to hire all your friends. Loads of new gear. New house. (Probably) new car. For that six-month window heading into the regular season, everything is largely fine, save for mishandling a mercurial superstar or the emergence of a deep skeleton from your past.

You’re also not on any lists like these. Call them “hot seat” lists, or whatever you will. I prefer to look at them as “situations coming to a critical decision point.”

Anyone can save themselves or their team in 2019 if the ball bounces the right way. That doesn’t take away from the reality of the situation: Some coaches and general managers are a long way from those initial halcyon days where every arrow is pointing up. With that in mind, here is a look at the teams, people and situations facing a critical decision point in 2019…

The Cardinals’ Power Structure

The Cardinals’ offseason was unconventional, to say the least. It’s hard to reconcile what they spent to get Josh Rosen and—after allowing his value to get torpedoed over months in the press—the return they got for him on the back end. In the minds of some scouts, it’s hard to imagine Kyler Murray in an NFL offense. In the minds of some casual observers, it’s difficult to see Kliff Kingsbury jumping from offensively productive yet middling college coach to successful NFL head coach.

Big swings sometimes produce big success, but they always produce a monumental target on the backs of those calling the shots. My two cents: The NFL’s old guard can’t wait to shove back against the legion of wunderkinds hired this offseason. Imagine if Arizona’s offense doesn’t produce the traditional Mike Leach-ian fireworks we all expect. Cardinals ownership will spend an entire season getting I told you so’d, which means that someone will have to pay the price.

The Head Coaching Position in Dallas

Jerry Jones’s patience with Jason Garrett has yet to pay the kinds of dividends the owner hoped. While last year’s post-Amari Cooper turnaround was notable, Dallas has a roster that is about to become top-heavy. Everyone, from the quarterback to the running back to the top pass defender, carries with them an ever-expanding price tag. In the time all of this talent was being developed (2014 to now), Dallas has made the playoffs three times in five years, losing in the divisional round each time.

Combine that with the fact that Jones is sitting on his hands while an offensive revolution is sweeping through the league. Years ago, this would have warranted the owner dumping a pile of cash on Lincoln Riley’s desk after the 2018 season (and still might). The fact that he’s shown restraint to this point is impressive in itself. Garrett is walking into a contract year, and while he could possibly parlay that into a John Harbaugh-esque turnaround in terms of perception, this could also be a fork in the road where Dallas decides to go in a different direction.

Everything in Washington

The minute you draft a quarterback, the clock starts. If any of the pre-draft whispers about Jay Gruden, the scouting staff and ownership being on a different page regarding Dwayne Haskins is true, blame will inevitably be placed on the person or people who didn’t put Haskins in a position to succeed in year one. I think Jay Gruden is a good head coach who might succeed elsewhere, and will certainly be a desired coordinator. His knowledge base is wide and he’s adaptable to a point. But for some owners, that’s not good enough, especially if said owner wants to shake up a franchise that has been to the playoffs once since 2013.

The Team Direction in Carolina

I think it’s a fair question to wonder what Cam Newton’s prime is, and whether the Panthers may have already seen most of it. Yes, there was that Super Bowl trip and near-undefeated season. Still, there’s an argument to be made that Newton’s athletic skill set was unprecedented for his time, and in his time as Panthers quarterback the team has won the division three times in eight years and made four trips to the playoffs. Is that as expected? Was that good enough? I could make the argument on both sides. There is a new owner, a franchise player on the second to last year of his contract and a coach with a similar expiration date. If the Saints maintain their grasp on the division, does it make sense to retool now, striking in the post-Drew Brees, Julio Jones, NFC South?

The Belichick Disciple Experiment in Detroit

Would another losing season in Detroit tip the internal perception meter on Matt Patricia? While it may seem early, I think it’s a fair question. In addition to the horrendous oversight during the background checking process, which forced the organization to rally behind him instantly, Patricia hasn’t exactly warmed over the crowd. He bristles at reporters. He was allegedly late to meetings. And while the latter two offenses are ultimately meaningless if the team succeeds, the people in charge of selling the tickets may start wondering what they have on their hands and whether it’s conducive to a marketable product.

The Belichick Disciple Experiment in Houston

Another thing that starts a clock on someone? Winning a power struggle, which is seemingly what happened (again) with Bill O’Brien in Houston. He’s now the acting general manager, piloting the ship without a GM. Nick Caserio isn’t coming (yet), and the team fired a seemingly quality GM a year into a long-term contract. If the Texans take a step back this year, with Deshaun Watson soaring into a second contract, does it make sense that the blame may be directed toward the last man standing? To be clear, I think O’Brien’s offense has made strides with Watson under center and the addition of two young offensive tackles that fit the scheme should also help. But … a season that doesn’t end with a playoff win over an opponent not quarterbacked by Connor Cook will make six straight for the franchise.

The Offensive Direction in Jacksonville

I think it’s hard to argue against the roster put together in Jacksonville. I think ownership knows this. I think that individual statistics bear this out. Sticking with Blake Bortles too long is the lingering crime (but time will tell there as well; what if Sean McVay turns him into a useful tool this preseason?). This roster is too star-studded to miss the playoffs two years in a row, especially with the addition of Nick Foles. If there is no January football, it would be hard to argue against sweeping changes on the coaching front as the team stares down another daunting rebuild.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.



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Football

All-25-and-Under Team: Mahomes, Kamara, Garrett


The All-25-and-Under Team consists of players who were 25 or younger as of June 1. (The All-Over-30 Team can be found here.)

This team, like all of the other teams in this series, was selected with the idea of constructing the best overall roster. Usually, that means simply picking the best players. But once in a while, it means picking the players whose styles best complement one another, which is how actual NFL rosters are built.

Starters listed in bold.


Quarterback

Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs—23 years, nine months

Baker Mayfield, Browns—24 years, two months

History suggests Mahomes will be better this season than in his MVP 2018 season, and better again in 2020, but it’s hard to envision much room for improvement. He lit the league on fire in 2018. However, he can still get even better not just mentally (where he’s already ahead of the curve and figures to start seeing things faster) but physically. Amazing as he was, Mahomes last season misfired on a handful of throws each game. That’s likely one reason he is working diligently on his footwork this summer. Mahomes might never throw with unwavering down-to-down accuracy—an errant ball or two could be the cost of doing business with such an unconventionally gifted thrower. Of course, Mahomes more than compensates for rogue incompletions by connecting on a few throws each game that other quarterbacks couldn’t even attempt. With Mahomes under center, you can do anything and everything schematically.

Running Back

Alvin Kamara, Saints—23 years, 11 months

Saquon Barkley, Giants—22 years, four months

Ezekiel Elliott, Cowboys—23 years, 11 months

Elliott is a better pure runner than Kamara and, in terms of efficient north/south movement, probably Barkley, as well. But Kamara’s and Barkley’s value in the passing game can’t be understated. We’d gladly put Elliott on the field for most of the snaps, but given the choice, we’ll wind up just going with runners who can flex out as slot and wide receivers. Kamara’s and Barkley’s route running prowess there provides unlimited schematic dimension. In fact, there’s a good chance we’ll put them on the field simultaneously.

Wide Receiver

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers—22 years, seven months

Stefon Diggs, Vikings—25 years, seven months

Tyler Boyd, Bengals—24 years, seven months

Mike Evans, Bucs—25 years, 10 months

Brandin Cooks, Rams—25 years, nine months

Cooks would not have made this team except that the top of our receiving corps, aside from Diggs, lacks ideal speed. If defenses start sitting on our routes, we can threaten their safeties with the Rams’ burner. Most likely, however, Evans will provide our verticality off the bench. He is not particularly fast, but long limbs and a long stride make him viable downfield. He runs a broader route tree than Cooks. The other members of our receiving corps are rock solid fundamentally, which will help Mahomes resist the temptation to play off-schedule too often.

Tight End

George Kittle, 49ers—25 years, eight months

Evan Engram, Giants—24 years, nine months

Mark Andrews, Ravens—22 years, nine months

Two skinny pass-catchers who are basically wide receivers and one budding all-around tight end (Andrews) who can block and catch. Andrews is not as fast as Kittle or Engram, but he may wind up stealing the starting job if his run-blocking proves too valuable. It’s not like Andrews is a road grader, but we can feel comfortable with him aligned on the line of scrimmage. We probably can with Kittle, too (depending on the play call) but not with Engram (who is a glorified wide receiver).

Offensive Tackle

LT Laremy Tunsil, Dolphins—24 years, 11 months

LG Quenton Nelson, Colts—23 years, three months

C Billy Price, Bengals—24 years, eight months

RG Shaq Mason, Patriots—25 years, 10 months

RT Ryan Ramczyk, Saints—25 years, two months

Ronnie Stanley, Ravens—25 years, three months

Andrus Peat, Saints—25 years, seven months

Tunsil is as athletic and nimble as any blocker in football. Nelson got stronger in pass pro as a rookie and is already the game’s best on-the-move run-blocking left guard. He teams well with Price, who has the necessary mobility to give us a multidimensional ground game and screen game. The right side of our O-line is solid. Our world is made easier by the fact that Ramczyk can be trusted to pass block on an island. Our only concern is that neither of our backups is experienced snapping the ball. If something happens to Price, we’ll move Shaq Mason to center and plug Peat in at right guard. Collectively, we have enough athleticism to run an outside zone scheme, but we would leave opportunities on the table if we limited ourselves to only running outside zone. With a mixture of power and athleticism, we can have an expansive rushing attack built off man-blocking concepts. Aside from Tunsil, these linemen all come from man-blocking NFL schemes.


Edge

Danielle Hunter, Vikings—24 years, eight months

Myles Garrett, Browns—23 years, six months

Yannick Ngakoue, Jaguars—24 years, three months

T.J. Watt, Steelers—24 years, eight months

We’ll use stunts and twists to capitalize on our D-line’s athleticism. Hunter and Ngakoue, who are both long and fluid, are great at looping inside. Watt, who is mechanically sound, can also stunt and twist. Garrett, with his fast, violent hands, is great at attacking blockers to create pass rushing lanes for teammates.

Defensive Line

Trey Flowers, Patriots—25 years, 10 months

Kenny Clark, Packers—23 years, eight months

Chris Jones, Chiefs—24 years, 11 months

DeForest Buckner, 49ers—25 years, three months

What’s most to love is these guys’ versatility. Clark, who has one of football’s best combinations of size and athleticism, is the truest nose-shade tackle of the bunch, though Flowers and especially the explosive, long-armed Buckner can align there, too. Those two can also penetrate, though neither quite as well as Chris Jones, who dominated down the stretch last year.

Linebacker

Darius Leonard, Colts—23 years, 11 months

Leighton Vander Esch, Cowboys—23 years, four months

Roquan Smith, Bears—22 years, two months

Jarrad Davis, Lions—23 years seven months

This group offers speed, athleticism and the oft-overlooked length, which can separate good and great linebackers. (The longer your arms, the more leeway there is for how you take on blocks.) The only concern is that these men are all better in zone coverage than man-to-man, and our cornerbacking group is too enticing to not play man-to-man. Fortunately, with a strong D-line, we are not dependent on blitzing, which means we can always call on our safeties to help in coverage.

Cornerback

Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars—24 years, eight months

Marshon Lattimore, Saints—23 years, one month

Kenny Moore, Colts—23 years, 10 months

Marlon Humphrey, Ravens—22 years, 11 months

Denzel Ward, Browns—22 years, two months

Ramsey will travel with the bigger receivers, Lattimore with the smaller, quicker guys. If that’s too unfamiliar for Lattimore (who often takes the bigs in New Orleans’s scheme), we can turn to Marlon Humphrey, who was quietly sensational in those assignments last season. Or we can look to Ward. The undrafted Moore might seem like the outlier of this group, but he is one of football’s best slot corners (and, as of recently, its highest-paid). He’s a fervid tackler, sharp blitzer and an alert zone defender.

Safeties

Kevin Byard, Titans—25 years, 10 months

Derwin James, Chargers—22 years, 10 months

Jamal Adams, Jets—23 years, eight months

Landon Collins, Redskins—25 years, five months

Our top three safeties can operate anywhere on the field, putting all blitz and coverage disguises in play. All are playmakers, too. Byard is a ball hawk in deep centerfield. James and Adams are destructive near the line of scrimmage. Collins, along with Baltimore’s Tony Jefferson (who is too old for this team), is football’s most dangerous “unblocked” defender.

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.



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