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NFL morning after: Andy Reid’s amazing turnaround

Kansas City Chiefs v Tennessee Titans Getty Images

Peyton Manning is on pace for a zillion touchdowns, and Jimmy Graham is playing tight end as well as anyone has ever played the position, and Robert Mathis is on pace to break the single-season sack record. But if I had to pick one person who has done his job the best so far this season, it wouldn’t be any of those players — or any player. It would be Chiefs coach Andy Reid.

The job Reid has done, taking over a 2-14 team and getting off to a 5-0 start, is nothing short of remarkable. Last year’s Chiefs were a mess on offense, defense and special teams. This year’s Chiefs are playing outstanding football in all three phases of the game. If it wasn’t already clear before Sunday’s 26-17 win over a good Titans team in Tennessee, it’s clear now: The Chiefs are for real.

That’s a huge surprise, but maybe it shouldn’t be. After all, Reid — despite the way it ended for him in Philadelphia — has already shown with the Eagles that he’s one of the best coaches in the NFL.

There were fair criticisms of Reid during his Eagles tenure, and given the way things went south in Philadelphia last season, letting him go might have been the right move for the Eagles. But let’s not pretend Reid isn’t an outstanding coach. In 1999, the Eagles team Reid took over was terrible. A year later he had them in the playoffs, and Reid led the Eagles to the playoffs nine times from 2000 to 2010.

Yes, there are areas of coaching where Reid struggles, like managing the clock late in game. But the areas of coaching where Reid excels, like developing players, implementing an offensive system and devising weekly game plans, are the bulk of the work a coach does. That work might not be as visible as a clock-management miscue in crunch time, but it’s more important to building a good football team.

And building a good football team is exactly what Reid is doing in Kansas City. Reid’s offense is a good system for Alex Smith to do his usual unspectacular-but-efficient thing at quarterback, and for Jamaal Charles to show that he’s one of the best running backs in the NFL. But what I really like is what Reid did on defense, hiring Bob Sutton — a longtime college and pro coach who had never worked with Reid before — as his defensive coordinator. Reid took some criticism in Philadelphia for hiring and promoting his buddies (most notably former Eagles defensive coordinator Juan Castillo) as assistant coaches. He wisely looked beyond his inner circle for his defensive staff, and it has worked. The Chiefs’ defense has been great against the pass all season, and on Sunday they also held Titans running back Chris Johnson to just 17 yards on 10 carries.

I don’t think the Chiefs are going to beat out the Broncos in the AFC West. But I do think they’re going to be a wild card team, and a tough team to beat in January. Andy Reid will have another Coach of the Year award to put on his mantel at the end of this season.

Reid’s coaching impressed me the most about Sunday’s games. Here are my other thoughts:

Seattle’s Jon Ryan may be the NFL’s fastest punter and worst tackler. Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka had a field goal blocked on Sunday in Indianapolis, and Colts defensive back Delano Howell picked up the ball and raced toward the end zone. Amazingly, Ryan, the Seahawks’ punter and holder, gave chase and actually caught Howell — yes, a punter ran down a defensive back. Unfortunately, Ryan totally whiffed on the tackle, and Howell went the rest of the way to the end zone, completing a 61-yard return for a touchdown. Ryan will probably take some ribbing from teammates this week for his pathetic excuse for a tackle, but no one expects kickers to be able to tackle. Howell will take more ribbing for letting a punter catch him from behind.

Lance Briggs, what are you thinking? On fourth-and-1 late in the game, the Saints lined up to go for it in one of those situations where everyone watching is saying the same thing: “The Saints are just trying to draw the Bears offside.” So what happens? Saints quarterback Drew Brees uses a hard count, Briggs jumps offside, and the Saints are gifted a first down. Briggs is supposed to be the veteran leader of the Bears’ defense, but he committed one of the bonehead plays of the day. You just can’t jump offside on fourth-and-short.

The Broncos are ridiculous. No team in NFL history has ever scored even 600 points in a season. The all-time record is 589, by the 16-0 Patriots of 2007. The Broncos scored 51 points in Sunday’s win over the Cowboys to improve their total on the season to 230, putting them on pace to score 736 this season. The Broncos’ 230 points are the most for any team through five games in NFL history. If the Broncos average 33 points a game the rest of the way, they’ll break the Patriots’ record.

Maybe Trent Richardson just isn’t very good. When the Browns traded Richardson to the Colts for a first-round draft pick, most people thought it was a bold move by the Colts and a wave of the white flag by the Browns. Instead, Cleveland has gone 3-0 since allegedly giving up on the season by shipping Richardson to Indianapolis, and Richardson hasn’t done much of anything for the Colts. Yes, the Colts are 3-0 with Richardson, but his impact on their offense has been negligible. On Sunday, Richardson carried 18 times for 56 yards, and 11 of his 16 carries gained two yards or less. As a rookie in Cleveland Richardson averaged 3.6 yards a carry, and in five games this season, Richardson has averaged 3.6, 3.2, 2.7, 3.0 and 3.1 yards a carry. Despite the talent he showed at Alabama, maybe Richardson just isn’t a good enough runner to consistently make plays at the professional level.

Johnny Unitas was amazing. Why was I thinking about Johnny Unitas on Sunday? Because Tom Brady’s streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass ended at 52, and that got me to thinking about the all-time record for consecutive touchdown games with a touchdown pass, which Johnny Unitas owned from 1960 (when he set the old record of 47) until both Brady and Drew Brees passed Unitas last year. Just think how different the NFL passing environment was when Johnny Unitas was playing in the 1950s and 1960s. The officials weren’t protecting quarterbacks and receivers from hits on defenseless players, and defenders had far more leeway to rough up receivers downfield. In those days, you could lead the league with only 20 touchdown passes. And yet Unitas set a passing record that didn’t get broken until 2012. Amazing.

If the Jaguars didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all. When Jacksonville traded offensive tackle Eugene Monroe last week, I thought it made sense: The Jaguars aren’t going anywhere this season, and they might as well pick up a fourth-round pick and a fifth-round pick for Monroe now, rather than let Monroe leave in free agency for nothing after the season. But then came Sunday, when rookie left tackle Luke Joeckel was carted off the field with a leg injury. Losing Joeckel and not having Monroe anymore means the offensive line that will protect quarterback Blaine Gabbert the rest of this season will be brutally bad. I don’t know if the Jaguars will match the 0-16 Lions of 2008, but it’s hard for me to figure out when the Jaguars are going to win a game.

We may be witnessing the end of Tom Coughlin. I have a lot of respect for what Coughlin has done in his NFL coaching career, both his two Super Bowls with the Giants and the way he built the expansion Jaguars into contenders in the 1990s. But sometimes a coach just reaches a point where he can’t take his team any further, and Coughlin looks like he has reached that point with the Giants. Coughlin made some weird game management decisions in Sunday’s loss to the Eagles, including a bizarre decision not to decline a penalty after the Giants made a stop on third down (the Eagles converted on the ensuing play) and burning two timeouts in a row, first by calling one and then by getting a challenge wrong during that timeout. I’m not going to say the Giants should fire Coughlin and I’m not going to say he needs to retire. But I do think he looks like he could use a fresh start. Kind of like Andy Reid.

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Mike Tannenbaum: Winning the offseason “really doesn’t mean anything” come September

Stephen Ross AP

For three teams in the AFC East, March has brought some major changes to their rosters.

The Jets brought back cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie while also trading for wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The Bills traded for running back LeSean McCoy and signed several players, including tight end Charles Clay, while the Dolphins landed the biggest fish on the free agent market by signing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

The Dolphins have made several other moves as well in executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum’s first year with the team, leaving Tannenbaum to quip that he’s been so busy that he hasn’t noticed the weather in Miami. The moves have left the Dolphins and their fellow 2014 AFC East also-rans looking better on paper, but Tannenbaum knows that has limited value once the season starts.

“Look, it really doesn’t mean anything sitting here in March,” Tannenbaum said, via Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. “What’s important is what it looks like on opening day and every week. [The Patriots are] going to look different come the regular season like we are, so we’ve got a long, long way to go.”

Tannenbaum was with the Jets for many years and had several splashy offseasons while serving as the team’s General Manager without winding up where the Patriots were in February, so he knows well that winning in the offseason doesn’t guarantee anything in the regular season. He also knows that as much as things may change for the Patriots, they’ll have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady when the regular season does roll around and that’s proven to be too much to handle for the rest of the division for most of the last two decades.

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June 1 free-agency deadline moved to May 12

May12

Years ago, June 1 had extreme significance on the NFL calendar.  Teams looking to reduce the cap hit from cutting a veteran player would wait until June 1, resulting in half or more of the acceleration to hit the cap in the following league year.

In 2006, the NFL changed the rule, allowing teams to cut two players per year before June 1, with a June 1 designation.  Few teams currently have cap issues; as a result, the entire notion of using the designation or waiting until June 1 to cut a player has become largely irrelevant.

June 1 had continued significance for another reason.  After June 1, unrestricted free agents signed by other teams don’t count toward the compensatory draft-pick formula.  Starting this year, that date will move from June 1 to May 12, according to the league office.

The Competition Committee had been considering shifting the date from June 1 to May 1.  With the draft still happening as of May 1, it makes sense to let the draft end and to let the dust settle before allowing free agents to sign without the move helping their former team or potentially hurting their new one.

The shift gives free agents more of an opportunity to participate in the offseason program.  It also gives teams reason to wait on adding some of the currently available free agents, in order to avoid reducing their potential haul of compensatory picks.

The Ravens have mastered the craft of waiting to sign unrestricted free agents until the deadline has come and gone.  Today’s addition of quarterback Matt Schaub doesn’t change that.  Because he was cut by the Raiders, Schaub’s addition neither helps the Raiders nor hurts the Ravens when it comes to determining compensatory selections.

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Colts sign former Chargers third-rounder Vincent Brown

Vincent Brown, Charles Woodson AP

Vincent Brown, a once-promising wide receiver whose career has been plagued by injuries, has landed in Indianapolis.

The Colts announced today that they’ve signed Brown to a free agent contract.

The Chargers drafted Brown in the third round in 2011, and he made some big plays in limited action as a rookie, catching 19 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns. But he missed his entire second season after suffering a broken ankle in the preseason.

In 2013 Brown got back on track, with 41 catches for 472 yards. But in 2014 a calf injury forced him to miss all of training camp, and the Chargers waived him with an injury settlement. He ended up catching on with the Raiders, but had only 12 catches for 118 yards.

If Brown can get healthy, the Colts may have gotten a bargain on a low-priced contract. But Brown’s history makes that a very big “if.”

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Raiders release Antonio Smith

Oakland Raiders v Kansas City Chiefs Getty Images

The Raiders added several free agents in an attempt to solidify their defense last season, but the results weren’t what Oakland hoped.

The team finished last in the league in points allowed on their way to another losing season and another offseason spent bringing in new faces while getting rid of players who were part of the problems last year. The Raiders added another name to the discard pile on Tuesday.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the team has released defensive lineman Antonio Smith. Smith started all 16 games for Oakland last season, recording 20 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble. Smith had a particularly tough time against the run last season, but he’s been a durable player and effective pass rusher throughout his career so he may earn another look before the offseason is out.

The Raiders added Dan Williams and re-signed C.J. Wilson on the defensive line in free agency. Adding another defensive lineman is a possibility at the top of the draft, although the Raiders may also opt to bolster their offense by adding Amari Cooper or Kevin White to their receiving corps.

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Jason Licht gushes about Jameis Winston’s Pro Day workout

Jameis Getty Images

If the Buccaneers already were planning to pick quarterback Jameis Winston with the first overall pick in the draft, nothing that happened during the player’s Pro Day workout changed the team’s position.

If anything, the Bucs are even more determined to draft Winston.

“Very good. Excellent. Had a great day,” G.M. Jason Licht said regarding the workout, via JoeBucsFan.com.  “This was outstanding.  He threw a full nine innings.”

Licht said Winston displayed sufficient strength and endurance to end talk about whether he’s in shape.

“He showed his arm strength to throw No. 1 to throw 100 and whatever it was,” Licht said, adding that he was most impressed with Winston’s “leadership and arm strength and conditioning.”

The Buccaneers could, in theory, work out a contract with Winston and make him the first overall pick at any time.  It now appears to be a matter of time until that happens.

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Panthers add linebacker, special teams depth in Jason Trusnik

Kansas City Chiefs v Miami Dolphins Getty Images

The Panthers continued to add bargain free agents to help shore up their special teams.

They announced they had signed unrestricted free agent linebacker Jason Trusnik to a one-year deal.

Trusnik spent the last four seasons with Miami, and has also played with the Jets and Browns. He started five games for the Dolphins last year, but they’re looking for depth and kicking game help with this one.

“Jason is an experienced player who adds more competition to the linebacker position and has also been a special teams ace,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “I expect him to come in and be a leader. Even though he is new to us, he’s got veteran savvy to him.”

The Panthers could use that, as they try to improve a team that went to the playoffs the last two seasons from the bottom third of the roster up.

Trusnik fits in with guys such as Ted Ginn, Teddy Williams and Kurt Coleman as players brought in primarily with special teams roles in mind.

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Medical timeout rule likely won’t increase risk of fake injuries

Arm

Last week, the NFL gave the ATC spotter assigned to each game the power to stop the action and remove a player who requires medical attention, if the officials and/or training staffs don’t notice that a player is in distress.

Because any stoppage initiated by the spotter doesn’t result in a charged time out, teams could be tempted to instruct, for example, defensive players who are facing a no-huddle attack to pretend to be disoriented in order to get a break in the action without consequence.  But the spotter is a safety net; to avoid a charged time out in the final two minutes of a half or the game, the player would have to fake the injury so that no one on the field notices, but that only the spotter does.

So while the temptation to fake injuries exists, the new medical timeout rule does nothing to make a fake injury even more enticing — unless game officials decide to stop looking for potentially woozy players and to defer to the spotter.  If that happens, with spotters becoming not the last line of defense but first, a greater incentive to fake injuries will arise, since there will be no lost timeout or 10-second runoff if it happens late in a game.

Either way, fake injuries will happen from time to time.  For now, it’s unlikely that the new rule will result in more of them.

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Jameis Winston’s coach said a team “shadowed” him on plane

Spy

NFL teams are going to do anything they can to get background on a player before they draft him.

Including, apparently, stalking.

According to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports, Jameis Winston’s quarterback coach George Whitfield pulled the curtain back on the kind of scrutiny Winston is under.

Whitfield said he was told Winston was “secretly shadowed” on one of his Scouting Combine flights by a team.

Of course, having team personnel on flights into and out of Indianapolis that week isn’t an unusual occurrence. (Connecting in Atlanta on my way home, there were a handful of assistant coaches and about half the SEC wide receivers on my plane.)

And if people were eyeballing Winston in the Indianapolis airport, he might have left them with a positive impression.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic was also leaving Indy after the Combine when he saw Winston help an old man in a wheelchair.

So unless the mystery team caught Winston hogging both armrests or refusing to buckle his seat belt when the light was on, it’s hard to know what they were looking for.

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Eli Manning: We will be taking offense to another level this year

Philadelphia Eagles v New York Giants Getty Images

The Giants entered last offseason with an offense that team co-owner John Mara called “broken,” a new offensive coordinator in Ben McAdoo and quarterback Eli Manning in need of ankle surgery, but things wound up coming together nicely on that side of the ball by the time the season came to an end.

The team may have finished with a dismal record and missed the playoffs for the third straight season, but Manning cut his interceptions sharply while putting up some of the best numbers of his career. That came with Odell Beckham setting the league on fire as a rookie, but without the injured Victor Cruz and that’s part of the reason why Manning thinks things will be even better this time around.

“This year will be a much easier transition, knowing that we have been through so much of it already,” Manning said, via the team’s website. “It’s definitely a different starting point. I feel good about it. I feel that I have a good understanding of it, but there is still room to grow and that is why I try to keep it as fresh in my mind as possible. Looking at old game-plan sheets and calling plays in my head — throwing routes with receivers trying to call out plays to myself, so you don’t let it slip away. It was new last year and it wasn’t something I have been doing for 10 years, so you want to keep it fresh and go through your reminders and all your checks. So when we come back I haven’t taken a step backwards and have to re-learn things. It is still all there. There will be new stuff and we will be taking it to another level.”

The addition of Shane Vereen gives the Giants another weapon to use in the passing game, which should be strong with Cruz returning to the lineup. For the Giants to break their trend of subpar finishes, though, they’ll need the defense to make a similar rebound to the one that the offense experienced in 2014 and there’s not much Manning and company can do to make that happen.

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Desmond Bishop returns to 49ers

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The 49ers have been talking to a variety of free agent linebackers in recent days and they signed one of them on Tuesday.

Desmond Bishop’s agent told Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee that Bishop will return to the team on a one-year deal. Bishop signed with the team late last season after injuries gutted their linebacking corps and made two tackles in two games with the team.

Bishop also spent time with the Cardinals in 2014 and played four games for the Vikings in 2013 after missing the entire 2012 season. Before moving to Minnesota, Bishop spent five seasons with the Packers. He was a starter for the final two of those seasons and totaled more than 100 tackles each season while also recording eight sacks.

Bishop will likely fight for time behind Navorro Bowman and Michael Wilhoite as long as Bowman has recovered from the knee injury that kept him out for all of last year. Nick Moody and Shayne Skov are also on hand as reserve options for the Niners in the wake of the retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland this month.

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Jameis Winston says he’s staying home since grandma can’t travel

Jameis Winston AP

Jameis Winston’s whole spring has been spent trying to dispel notions.

Many of those, of course, stemmed from his own actions.

But he said after his pro day workout Tuesday that his decision to not attend the NFL Draft in Chicago was a simple call based on the health of a family member.

During an interview on the NFL Network, Winston said his grandmother has type-2 diabetes and is unable to travel, so the desire to be around his family triggered his decision to stay near home.

Many have wondered whose decision it was for him to not attend, or whether it was driven by public relations complications for either side.

But if you take the man at his word, then his decision to skip a chance at a grip-and-grin with Roger Goodell shouldn’t receive any more scrutiny than Joe Thomas’s decision to fish with his dad.

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Jets decide to stay home instead of going to camp this summer

Geno Smith AP

Add the Jets to the list of teams who won’t be going away for camp this summer.

The team announced they would not be returning to SUNY-Cortland this year for training camp, staying put at their own training facility instead.

“SUNY Cortland felt like home because of the tremendous local support we received during our time there,”  owner Woody Johnson said in a statement. “President Erik Bitterbaum and the university staff, as well as the families and businesses of Central New York, all went above and beyond to embrace our organization and create a comfortable environment for our team and fans. They always will be a part of our Jets family.”

The Jets had gone to Cortland five of the last six years, but referred to “locating camp closer to the team’s core fan base in the New York/North Jersey metropolitan area.”

They’re not alone in that desire to stay close, as 21 of 32 teams stay at their own places.

Between the cost and logistical challenges of going to another place, more teams are finding it to be not worth the trouble to go away, forgoing whatever bonding might happen when forced into an unfamiliar environment.

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Ravens sign Matt Schaub

Matt Schaub AP

Joe Flacco has a new backup.

Matt Schaub, who spent last season holding a clipboard in Oakland, has signed with the Ravens, according to Peter King of TheMMQB.com.

The Ravens had been looking for a backup with some experience, as the only other quarterbacks on their roster are the totally untested Keith Wenning and Bryn Renner.

Schaub is experienced, having been the starter in Houston for seven seasons. But he looks just about washed up at age 33. Last year he barely got on the field for the Raiders, and the year before that he suffered through a miserable season in Houston.

The Ravens hope Flacco will stay healthy and Schaub will never see the field, but if something does happen to Flacco, Schaub at least gives them the presence of someone who has started in the NFL. Even if it’s been a long time since he played well.

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Former Browns owner sells English soccer club

Lerner Getty Images

The world’s most irrelevant billionaire soon will be even less relevant.

Former Browns owner Randy Lerner, whose commitment to the franchise was questioned at time based on his ownership of an English soccer club, reportedly will sell the English soccer club for $222 million, according to the London Daily Mirror.

Lerner reportedly paid $94.2 million for Aston Villa of the Premier League a decade ago, which means that he has generated a profit of more than $127 million.

In 2012, Lerner sold the Browns to Jimmy Haslam for more than $1 billion.  Lerner’s father, Al, founded the reconstituted Browns in 1999.

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Lions talk up Theo Riddick as replacement for Reggie Bush

theoriddick AP

With Reggie Bush now in San Francisco, the Lions are seeking a complement to starting running back Joique Bell. It might just be a running back who’s already on the roster.

Theo Riddick, who has played for the Lions the last two years, seems to be in line for more work now that Bush is out.

“I do think that he’s going to improve,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said, via the Detroit News. “He has all of the qualities. If you’re smart, if you’re tough, if you’re disciplined, if you have a great work ethic, there’s improvement ahead. And he has all those things, so I think he’s going to improve. And I think he’ll force us to get him the ball a little bit more in some situations.”

Riddick has shown some promise as a receiver out of the backfield and lined up in the slot, but as a runner, if Riddick “has all of the qualities,” he sure hasn’t shown it yet. In two NFL seasons Riddick has played in 28 games and carried only 29 times for 76 yards, a 2.6-yard average. The longest run of his career went for nine yards.

No one played particularly well in the Lions’ running game last year. Detroit ranked 28th in both rushing yards and yards per carry last season. The Lions need someone to do better than that in 2015. Maybe that someone can be Riddick.

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