Wednesday, January 19, 2022

NFL insider notebook: Top GM candidates entering 2022, plus head coaching options for Jaguars

It’s Week 15 of the NFL season, and that unfortunately means it’s time for the cycle of firings and hirings to soon begin.

Last year I took a look at some general manager and head coaching candidates who I thought would — or should — get interviews for jobs, based off talks I had with sources across the NFL.

I decided to do this project again this year, one that’s sure to leave off some impressive names, regrettably. In today’s look at GM candidates, I spoke with personnel executives, coaches, player and coaching agents, scouts and other staffers to determine who are the top names in this year’s cycle.

Movement among the GM and head coaching ranks isn’t expecting to be as furious as last season when seven GMs and seven head coaches were hired. There are no current GM vacancies in the NFL, though the Giants job is surely coming open. Many around the league anticipate the Bears to come open, and I still believe that’s likely to happen. It’s also possible Mark Davis cleans house in Las Vegas.

Other teams’ execs are keeping an eye on include Miami, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh, with long-time Steelers GM Kevin Colbert working on another one-year deal.

In alphabetical order, here’s my list of top GM candidates for this hiring cycle:

Kevin Abrams, Giants VP of football operations: If John Mara decides to stay within the Giants family for his next GM, Abrams is the odds-on favorite to be the pick after spending nearly a quarter-century with the franchise.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, Browns VP of football operations: He was a hot name last cycle and could very well land a job this time around. Adofo-Mensah has a Wall Street background and excels at the numbers part of this business.

Dawn Aponte, NFL chief football administrative officer: She’s worked with the league’s management council as well as in the front offices of the Jets, Browns and Dolphins. She’s as well-rounded as any on this list to become a GM.

Mike Borgonzi, Chiefs assistant GM: It’s a matter of time before folks begin getting plucked out of the Chiefs front office, and I was surprised it didn’t happen last year. Borgonzi has been a key part of Brett Veach’s extremely successful group in KC.

Malik Boyd, Bills senior director of pro scouting: Boyd’s been in the scouting ranks for nearly two decades. He got an interview for the Houston job last year.

Brandon Brown, Eagles director of player personnel: One of the fastest “risers” in all of personnel. Brown played in college, has a law degree, a college coaching background, scouted for the Colts and oversees Philly’s pro scouting department.

Ran Carthon, 49ers director of player personnel: Carthon received this promotion last year and manages the Niners pro scouting department. A former NFL player, he ran the Rams pro personnel department before joining San Francisco five years ago.

Glenn Cook, Browns VP of player personnel: Cook, a former stud linebacker at the University of Miami, has been an instrumental and quiet part of Cleveland’s turnaround under GM Andrew Berry.

Ryan Cowden, Titans VP of player personnel: Cowden took a successful career with the Carolina Panthers to Tennessee six years ago and has helped the Titans to three playoff appearances. He interviewed for the Washington GM last year.

Jacqueline Davidson, Buccaneers director of football research: A highly respected member of Jason Licht’s staff, Davidson has been key in the Bucs’ cap decisions since Tom Brady arrived. Davidson, who has a law degree, spent 11 years with the Jets before helping make Tampa Bay into a Super Bowl champion.

DuJuan Daniels, Raiders assistant director of player personnel: A longtime member of the Patriots scouting department, Daniels joined Mike Mayock’s group in 2019. If Mark Davis makes a move at GM, he should be an internal candidate.

Ed Dodds, Colts assistant GM: Dodds was highly coveted last offseason but had the privilege of waiting for the right job. If the right one opens up this offseason, I’d expect him to be a top candidate.

Mike Greenberg, Buccaneers VP of football administration: Greenberg got the promotion after the Super Bowl victory and has been at the control of all the contract and cap situations.

Khai Harley, Saints VP of football administration: The Saints have done more cap gymnastics the last seven-or-so years than any other team in football. Harley, who’s been with the team for a decade and a half, is to thank for that. He’s one of the quietest candidates on this list, but he’s one of its most effective as well.

Quentin Harris, Cardinals VP of player personnel: A former Cardinals safety, he’s been in Arizona’s scouting department for 14 years and got the promotion to VP this past offseason.

Joe Hortiz, Ravens director of player personnel: He’s been a top lieutenant for Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta for years, and he’s been in this role for seven seasons. Hortiz is very well respected in the college scouting community.

Brandon Hunt, Steelers pro scouting coordinator: Hunt has been a top candidate to replace Kevin Colbert should he move on. Being part of a team that, up to this point, has had no losing seasons should mean something to team owners hoping to establish consistent success.

Jeff Ireland, Saints assistant GM: Those stellar Saints drafts the last several years? Yeah, that’s Ireland. Enough time has passed since his tenure as Dolphins GM where he should get a serious look at another top gig.

Dwayne Joseph, Raiders director of pro personnel: Joseph has been in pro scouting for 20 years. If and when the Bears GM job comes open, he’s likely to get a call there.

Will McClay, Cowboys EVP of player personnel: McClay has been the engine that makes the personnel department go the last several years. It’s a matter of time before someone gets him out of Dallas and into his own role as a top dog.

Dan Morgan, Panthers assistant GM: The former All-Pro linebacker just joined the Panthers staff in this role after serving three years as the Bills director of player personnel and should get GM looks soon.

Champ Kelly, Bears assistant director of player personnel: He was previously a finalist for the Jets job that went to Joe Douglas. Kelly impressed many around the league this summer in a presentation he gave during the Ozzie Newsome GM Forum.

Omar Khan, Steelers VP of football and business administration: He’s been with the Steelers since 2001 and is a key part of what Kevin Colbert has built there.

Trent Kirchner, Seahawks VP of player personnel: He was a GM candidate for the Texans last year and the Colts before that.

Adam Peters, 49ers assistant GM: Peters was a finalist for the Panthers gig last season and was promoted to AGM shortly after that. He’s logged 18 years in the NFL.

Ryan Poles, Chiefs executive director of player personnel: He’s been with the Chiefs for more than a decade and has played a large role in Kansas City’s drafts recently. He made the final four for Carolina’s GM job last year.

Joe Schoen, Bills assistant GM: Among all the names on this list, no one’s name was mentioned more to me than Schoen’s. Considering the diverse amount of voices and backgrounds cultivated to make this list, that speaks loudly. The right hand of Brandon Beane in Buffalo, Schoen is going to be a GM either this year or next.

John Spytek, Buccaneers VP of player personnel: The third name (listed alphabetically, remember) from this Bucs front office on this list. He has nearly two decades in the league with a previous stop in Denver as a national scout during their run with Peyton Manning.

Eric Stokes, Washington Football Team senior director of player personnel: Stokes is a well-respected scout who spent time as Miami’s AGM in 2014 and 2015.

Samir Suleiman, Panthers director of player negotiations and salary cap manager: Team owner David Tepper plucked Suleiman from Pittsburgh to be Carolina’s numbers guru and he hasn’t disappointed.

Tim Terry, Chiefs senior director of pro personnel: A former NFL linebacker who spent 13 seasons with the Packers before helping build the Chiefs into a Super Bowl winner.

Eliot Wolf, Patriots consultant: Ron Wolf’s son has been consulting in New England since 2020. His name has been attached to a potential opening in Vegas.

JoJo Wooden, Chargers director of player personnel: He’s been running the successful player personnel department with the Chargers since 2013 under GM Tom Telesco.

Dave Ziegler, Patriots director of player personnel: He took on the role of de facto GM with the team after Nick Caserio left for Houston. I’m told he totally changed the Pats draft process in 2021 and helped Belichick spend big in free agency.

Jaguars candidates

Shad Khan couldn’t live with another embarrassing episode Urban Meyer put him through, and now he’s in the market for another head coach. It’s rather incredible how spectacularly Meyer failed as a head coach.

But enough about the past. Let’s focus on the future. My coaching list will drop next week, but I’ll give you a peek at the five names I think Khan should make a call to.

There’s nothing preventing Khan from interviewing unemployed coaches right now, and he’d be wise to go ahead and get a jump on things. Beginning Dec. 28, teams can request to interview assistant coaches and coordinators for a vacant head coaching job. Raiders owner Mark Davis has said he’s going to wait until the end of the season, but that was before another vacancy opened.

My top-five list for the Jaguars would be, in no order: Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, former Eagles coach Doug Pederson, Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, and Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich.

Morris was last a head coach more than a decade ago and showed the lessons he learned as a successful interim in Atlanta two years ago. Bieniemy was a finalist for the job last season. Pederson has a track record of winning with a young quarterback. Moore and Leftwich are both considered ready for their first opportunities as two of the most successful OCs in the league.

New Frontier

The NFL announced Wednesday at its league meeting the new international home marketing areas for 18 teams across eight different countries.

What’s it mean? Well… nothing for domestic NFL fans. But it’s a long-term project for the league and its teams where clubs can market in these specific areas in the same ways they’d market their teams in their area in the United States. The rights are good for five years and there was no entry fee involved.

Why not 18 teams instead of all 32? Well… just because there was no entry fee doesn’t mean it won’t cost anything. League sources I spoke with estimated it being a seven-figure-a-year investment for any team doing this the right way. And the other 14 teams can always jump in each March when the league opens it back up annually.

Germany — and the teams that won the rights to the country — was most interesting to me. The Chiefs, Patriots, Buccaneers and Panthers are the four teams awarded Germany, and they can all begin activations there beginning on New Year’s Day.

Germany’s the next frontier for the NFL. An international game will be played there in the coming years, the Super Bowl rated well there despite being played overnight, the old World League set up a great base there and it’s the third-biggest Madden market in the world behind the U.S. and Canada.

The Patriots make a lot of sense there because they have been the most successful franchise of the past two decades, so fans of the NFL anywhere would have familiarity with them. The Buccaneers also make sense because they have the greatest quarterback of all time to market there. And the Panthers, under owner David Tepper, have promised to be aggressive in all business practices.

The Chiefs make sense because of their recent success, of course, and because of Patrick Mahomes. The QB is an Adidas-sponsored athlete, and Adidas is a 72-year old German company. Getting into that market is a lot easier when you have an Adidas athlete like Mahomes.

“When I saw the list, I was excited there were only four of us in Germany but that’s a competitive set,” Chiefs president Mark Donovan said. “Look it’s just like the football side. To be the best you’ve got to beat the best. We look forward to that competition. We think we’ll learn from them. We all have a lot to learn. No one’s going in here as the expert. I think it’ll raise the bar for everybody.

“We’ve got to be really aggressive right now, and hopefully 20 years from now, people are looking back on it saying those guys with the Chiefs made a pretty good decision in ’21.”

Week 15 picks

Hey! A really good week. I went 12-2 in Week 14 with the Rams and Steelers letting me down. That’s alright, though. My season-long record moves to 138-69-1. I took the Chiefs on Thursday night.

Washington Football Team at Eagles

Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET

TV: Fox | Stream: fuboTV (click here)

I legitimately don’t know who to take in this game. If there were more certainty one way or the other at the QB position, I’d feel better about it. But I have to make this call by Friday morning and seemingly half of Washington’s team is on the COVID list.

The pick: Eagles

Titans at Steelers

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

TV: CBS | Stream: Paramount+ (click here)

Ben Roethlisberger has shown me something these last two weeks. He’s played incredible ball in the second half. Meanwhile, the Titans looked tired and slow before the bye. I think the bye week came two weeks too late for Tennessee, but iit finally got the rest it desperately needed.

The pick: Titans

Bengals at Broncos

Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET

TV: CBS | Stream: Paramount+ (click here)

The Bengals are going to make this interesting right down to Week 18. I haven’t believed in Denver all year and the Cincy pass rush should be able to impact Teddy Bridgewater.

The pick: Bengals

Vikings at Bears

Monday, 8:15 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN | Stream: fuboTV (click here)

Don’t look now but the Bears are playing better ball. They put up 22 points against the Cardinals and a season-high 30 last week against Green Bay. But they’ve had seven turnovers in those games. I was ready to call for the upset until COVID protocols knocked out all their coordinators.

The pick: Vikings

Other games

  • Raiders over Browns (Saturday)
  • Patriots over Colts (Saturday)
  • Cardinals over Lions
  • Bills over Panthers
  • Texans over Jaguars
  • Dolphins over Jets
  • Cowboys over Giants
  • 49ers over Falcons
  • Packers over Ravens
  • Rams over Seahawks
  • Buccaneers over Saints

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