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Casserly claims EJ Manuel would be the No. 8 QB in this draft class

EJ Manuel AP

Last year, EJ Manuel was the top quarterback in the NFL draft, and the only one to go off the board in the first round, taken No. 16 overall by the Bills. This year, one former NFL general manager says Manuel would be way, way down the list.

Former Houston and Washington General Manager Charley Casserly says this year’s draft class has at least seven quarterbacks who are better prospects than Manuel: Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Eastern Illinois’s Jimmy Garoppolo, Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger.

“I’ve got a lot of guys rated ahead of him based on their college career and based on Manuel’s college career,” Casserly said, via Tim Graham of the Buffalo News. “Bridgewater, Bortles, Manziel, Carr, Garoppolo and McCarron. I’ve got them all rated ahead of EJ Manuel, coming out a year ago. And you know what? LSU quarterback Mettenberger. I’ve got him ahead of Manuel, too.”

It’s fair to point out, as some of Graham’s readers did on Twitter, that Casserly didn’t have a great track record of identifying quarterback talent during his days as a general manager: Casserly took David Carr first overall in 2002 and Heath Shuler third overall in 1994. But it’s also fair to point out, as I did on Twitter, that just because a G.M. has made a couple of bad picks in the past, that doesn’t mean he lacks knowledge about the draft evaluation process.

So, while Manuel still has plenty of time to prove he has what it takes to be a great NFL quarterback, count Casserly’s opinion as one that says this year’s draft contains a much better group of quarterbacks than last year’s. And that the teams drafting quarterbacks in the early rounds this year will end up with better players than the Bills got in Manuel.

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Monday morning one-liners

Frank Gore AP

The Bills’ first win at Gillette Stadium turned out to be a hollow victory.

A call for the Dolphins to weigh parting with defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.

Patriots DT Vince Wilfork hit his playing time incentives.

Said Jets WR Eric Decker, “You can’t play the what-if game. I thought today was a testament to finishing strong.”

Ravens CB Lardarius Webb came up with his first interception of the year.

Said Bengals QB Andy Dalton of his two interceptions, “The first one I shouldn’t have thrown. The next one I left high. It was my fault. You have to be better. You can’t turn the ball over.”

Rookie QB Connor Shaw earned good reviews from his Browns teammates after his first NFL start.

The Steelers Defense came up with three key turnovers on Sunday night.

Texans WR Andre Johnson closed an uneven season with a big game.

The Colts topped 300 yards of offense for the first time in three games.

The final game of the Jaguars season went much like the first 15 as the defense outpaced the offense.

Which players played their final game with the Titans on Sunday?

Broncos CB Chris Harris said it’s “the real deal” now that it is playoff time.

The Chiefs aren’t going to the playoffs, but LB Justin Houston closed the season on a high note.

An argument in favor of the Raiders making Tony Sparano the permanent head coach.

Special teams woes hurt the Chargers on Sunday.

Injured LB Sean Lee traveled with the` Cowboys for their regular season finale.

Ten things to know about Giants WR Odell Beckham’s rookie season.

QB Mark Sanchez called starting for the Eagles an “awesome experience.”

Redskins WR Santana Moss is pondering his future as an NFL player.

CB Charles Tillman said thanks as his time with the Bears may have come to an end on Sunday.

Lions RB Joique Bell started fast, but fell out of the game plan as Sunday night progressed.

RB Eddie Lacy helped power the Packers to a win over the Lions.

A disappointing season continued for Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson.

Falcons QB Matt Ryan joined Blake Bortles and Geno Smith as the only quarterbacks to have multiple interceptions returned for touchdowns in the same 2014 game.

Said Panthers DE Charles Johnson, “I’ve been here too long. This is not the end. I don’t want this to be the end. We are on a roll, and we need to keep it going.”

The Saints’ resolve appeared too late to get them into the playoffs.

RB Doug Martin had another effective game for the Buccaneers.

Cardinals LS Mike Leach played in his 200th straight game.

The Rams Offense couldn’t do enough to end the season with a win.

RB Frank Gore made his case for another year with the 49ers.

Rookie wide receivers Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood stepped up for the Seahawks.

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Gruden to wait before deciding on Haslett and staff

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In some precincts, the bad news is going to hit Monday.

In Washington, it may take a few days to slide in.

According to Mike Jones of the Washington Post, team officials and coach Jay Gruden are going to wait a few days before deciding on any pending staff changes.

“Everybody, top to bottom, in this organization is going to get evaluated, and it’s going to be a thorough evaluation,” coach Jay Gruden said, after his team has hammered by the Cowboys to finish 4-12.

Central to the speculation is defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who somehow has hung on there for five years. He has a long-standing personal relationship with Gruden (Haslett hired him in the UFL), but that might not be enough to buy him a sixth year.

He might not be the only shoe to fall, however, if shoes start falling in Washington.

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If Rob Ryan’s going out, he’s going out his way

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Much like his brother, if Rob Ryan was going out yesterday, he was going out guns blazing.

The Saints defensive coordinator fired up his guys and led the Saints to a comeback win over a sort-of trying Buccaneers team yesterday.

Ryan’s impassioned halftime speech was cited by some as the reason for his comeback, as he lit into players, telling them: “Act like you want to be here,” Ryan yelled.

Rob came in and chewed us out,” Galette said, via Katherine Terrell of the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “It’s like ‘Hey, this guy really cares.’ You know he cares. You know how passionate it is. And we started playing as a team and just played with our technique, we were gap-sound and they couldn’t do anything.”

While it might not make much of a difference as to his job security, he at least has players on his side, which is a trick his brother has mastered as well.

“I’d be shocked,” Galette said, when asked about the possibility of Ryan being fired.

Perhaps, but enough happened over the previous 15 games to mean few others would be.

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Panthers believe anything is possible now

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People doubted the Panthers this year for many reasons, not the least of which is no one had ever repeated as NFC South champions.

But they had their own problems, from losing franchise cornerstones Steve Smith and Jordan Gross, to getting Cam Newton back from an offseason surgery to losing 10 percent of their salary cap when defensive end Greg Hardy went on the commissioner’s exempt list for a domestic violence arrest.

So they’re not apologizing for being 7-8-1.

“I’m very proud of this football team first and foremost in spite of all the things we have dealt with this year,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said, via Bill Voth of Black and Blue Review. “The adversity we have faced as a football team, the resilience of this football team with the men in that locker room was on display today. They did things that we needed to do to give ourselves the opportunity to win and to put ourselves in this position by winning in December was a part of going forward as we step into the playoffs now.”

Longtime Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis (who knows about coming back from things, with his three torn ACLs) said now that they’ve achieved their goal, they’re not worried about records.

“We start this season off and hear all the talk about, it can’t be done; it won’t be done, and we’re here. We’ve done it.,” Davis said. “It’s not the end of it, but we had to make it to the playoffs, first and foremost. Now we’re going to get a chance to host a game next week. . . .

“I feel like we’re a team that is playing as well as any team in the league now. Anything can happen.”

Anything can, especially against an Arizona team with uncertainty at quarterback. How much farther they might go is debatable, but they’ve already gotten farther than most thought.

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Marcus Cannon channels Marshawn Lynch, sort of

Cannon Getty Images

The NFL doesn’t quite know how to handle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch and his desire to not cooperate with the media.  For now, the league has opted not to fine Lynch for his meaningless yeah/nope/thanks-for-asking routine, in part because the NFL believes most other players won’t be inclined to follow Lynch’s lead.

Last week, Broncos running back C.J. Anderson tried — but he apologized the next day.  On Sunday, Patriots offensive lineman Macus Cannon tried to do the same thing.

Via Jimmy Toscano of CSN New England, Cannon provided general answers to a pair of questions before shutting it down.

We played football today,” Cannon said initially. “We had a football game today.”

Asked about the offensive line, Cannon said, “We snapped the ball.”

Then, Cannon was done:  “I answered two questions, right?  I can’t get fined now.”

The league office likely will continue to tread lightly in cases like this.  By fining players, the league invites attention, criticism, and further copycat behavior.

Besides, Cannon isn’t exactly the kind of player from whom the media is clamoring to hear.  Nothing he could have said Sunday would have generated anything close to the kind of attention he’s getting for saying nothing.

Which, in a weird sort of way, could prompt more second-tier players to say nothing in order to get noticed.

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Bruce Arians “much more comfortable” with Ryan Lindley after second start

Arizona Cardinals v San Francisco 49ers Getty Images

The Cardinals were down to their third starting quarterback of the year on Sunday and they briefly flirted with going with a fourth quarterback during the week, so you can forgive them from accentuating the positives of their situation with a playoff game coming next weekend.

Ryan Lindley had a good first half against the 49ers, throwing the first two touchdown passes of his career to send the Cardinals to the locker room with a 17-13 lead. Things would not go so well in the second half, though. Lindley threw two interceptions and the Cardinals didn’t score as the 49ers gave Jim Harbaugh one last win as their coach.

After the contest, Lindley said that he thought the offense gained confidence during the game. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said that both Lindley’s play and the way he handled the team’s momentary fling with Logan Thomas left the team feeling better about the situation.

“Obviously, we’re all much more comfortable with Ryan after his performance today. And we look forward to the challenge,” Arians said, via the Arizona Republic. “Ryan was very cool last week, and I thought he was extremely poised, [and] knew the game plan today. And all that situation that happened Wednesday was my fault. I should’ve just kept my mouth shut.”

Arians hasn’t shut the door on Drew Stanton despite the complications with his knee injury that popped up last week, but it seems likely that Lindley will be the man leading the offense against the Panthers in the opening round of the postseason. For that reason alone, it would be a good idea to pump up belief in Lindley and Arians didn’t have to reach quite as far to get it done thanks to Lindley’s improved play in his second start of the season.

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Mike McCoy: We couldn’t make one play to get going

Philip Rivers AP

The Chargers were a win away from a postseason berth on Sunday, but they couldn’t manage to get it against a Chiefs team that gave them plenty of opportunities to grab hold of the game.

Philip Rivers was sacked seven times and threw two interceptions, Nick Novak missed a field goal and the defense couldn’t force a Kansas City offense quarterbacked by Chase Daniel into a turnover. After the 19-7 loss, Chargers coach Mike McCoy lamented those missed opportunities to grab a game that was there for the taking.

“That’s the most disappointing thing,” McCoy said, via U-T San Diego. “With everything that was at stake and for us to play the way we did … We couldn’t make the one play to get it going.”

It was hard not to see the impact of injuries on the Chargers Sunday. The seven sacks and inability to pick up a yard on a key fourth down play came behind an offensive line that was on its fifth center while also starting a rookie at right guard. The top two running backs and top wide receiver were also on the shelf, leaving Rivers and company with “not exactly the offense we expected to have.”

That didn’t stop them from being in position to win in Kansas City, but it may have stopped them from being able to execute and they’ll have a long time to ponder better ways to get the job done in 2015.

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NFL morning after: Seahawks ready to repeat

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Seventeen weeks of the NFL season have come and gone, and we’re left with this: The best team at the end of this season is the same as the best team at the end of last season.

The Seattle Seahawks are poised to become the NFL’s first repeat Super Bowl champions since the Patriots a decade ago. The Seahawks are getting the same great play out of their defense they were a year ago and the same great play from quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch, and with home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, they’re going to be a very, very tough team to beat.

This season hasn’t always gone according to plan in Seattle. Through six games they were 3-3, and at times early in the year their defense looked like it had taken a step backward. It was reasonable to question during the middle of the season if Seattle was as good as it was a year ago. It was even reasonable to question whether Seattle would make the playoffs at all.

But that’s all over now. With Sunday’s 20-6 win over the Rams, the Seahawks finished the season on a six-game winning streak, with all six wins by double digits. The Seahawks aren’t just beating teams, they’re beating teams up. They’re winning the way great teams win.

And I think they’ve got three more wins left in them. On February 1, the Seahawks will hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Again.

Here are my other thoughts from Sunday’s game:

Break up the Panthers! I never thought I’d say this about the NFC South champions, but the Panthers might actually be a pretty good team. Yes, they’re lucky that they’re in a bad division, and that’s the only reason they’re in the playoffs at 7-8-1. But they’ve won four in a row to enter the playoffs, including a pair of 31-point road wins at New Orleans and at Atlanta to seal the division title. The Panthers, who host the Cardinals in the first round of the playoffs, might just advance.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell is terrible at challenges. When Caldwell was the head coach of the Colts, Indianapolis hired former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel solely to serve as an advisor on instant replay challenges. The Colts’ brass knew Caldwell wasn’t good at it and wanted to get him some help. Maybe the Lions should do the same, after Caldwell made an absolutely ridiculous decision to challenge an obviously correct call on which Packers running back Eddie Lacy had the ball knocked out of his arms while he was on the ground and was correctly ruled down by contact. Throwing away a timeout in the second half of a close game is inexcusable, but that’s what Caldwell did. Caldwell is good at the slower, more deliberative aspects of coaching — game planning, getting his players prepared during the week, that kind of thing. But Caldwell just isn’t good at split-second decisions, and that’s easy to see when he throws his challenge flag.

Where did that Geno Smith come from? Smith, in what may very well have been his last game as the Jets’ starting quarterback, went 20-for-25 for 358 yards, with three touchdowns, no interceptions and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Smith was the only quarterback in the NFL all season to have a game with a perfect passer rating. But here’s the amazing thing about Smith: He was also the only quarterback in the NFL all season to have a game with a 0.0 passer rating. Smith is so inconsistent that there’s just no way the Jets can count on him going forward. Even though he had a great game on Sunday.

J.J. Watt’s great season overshadowed Justin Houston’s great season. Watt was such a force of nature for the Texans that not only will he win the Defensive Player of the Year award, but he’s a candidate for the Most Valuable Player award as well. But while we praise Watt, we shouldn’t overlook Houston, who had four sacks on Sunday for the Chiefs and finished the season with 22.0 sacks, just half a sack shy of Michael Strahan’s single-season record. Watt is the first player to record 20 sacks in two different seasons since sacks became an official statistic in 1982, and Watt is the NFL’s best defensive player. But don’t forget Houston when listing the best defensive players in football.

Odell Beckham is the best receiver in the NFL. Beckham, the Giants’ sensational playmaker, isn’t just the best rookie in the NFL. He’s the best receiver, period. Beckham had 12 catches for 185 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, and he finished the year with 91 catches for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns despite missing the first four games of the year with a hamstring injury. Beckham averaged 108.8 yards a game this season, the best of any receiver in the NFL. There is no receiver in football who made plays as consistently as Beckham did over the last three-fourths of the season, and he was doing it in an otherwise substandard Giants Offense. Beckham is amazing.

DeMarco Murray breaks an Emmitt Smith record. Murray finished this season with 1,845 rushing yards, the most in Cowboys history. When you’re breaking a record set by Smith, that’s pretty good. Murray will have a tough task in the Cowboys’ playoff opener against a good Lions rush defense. But that Lions rush defense will have an even tougher task dealing with Murray.

Russell Wilson is running like no other quarterback. Wilson finished this season with 849 rushing yards, the fifth best total for a quarterback in NFL history, and by far the best total of any quarterback in the NFL this season. Wilson is running better than any other quarterback in the league right now. He looks ready to run Seattle into the Super Bowl.

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Jerry Jones: No one knows what worries me about Dez Bryant contract

Dallas Cowboys v Washington Redskins Getty Images

Over the weekend, the Dallas Morning News had the latest in a periodic set of reports about concerns that the Cowboys have about wide receiver Dez Bryant’s life away from the football field.

All of those concerns are aired against the backdrop of Bryant’s impending free agency and what it might mean for the deal that he ultimately winds up with in Dallas. Bryant set the team’s record for receiving touchdowns in a season during Sunday’s victory and provided another entry for his highlight reel with a toe-dragging touchdown.

After the game, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that any worries he might have about signing Bryant to a long-term deal were worries that he hasn’t shared with anyone in the media and suggested that those worries were similar to ones he has any time he’s negotiating multimillion dollar commitments.

“I told you I’m not going to get into issues regarding any contract, but nobody knows what I’m worried about,” Jones said, via ESPNDallas.com. “And I don’t know that I’ve ever signed a contract that I didn’t have things to worry about, but nobody talked about them. You can’t make business decisions, especially multimillion dollar business decisions without having a nice little worry list over on the right. Everybody does. So it’s wrong to say that that is an issue. That’s not an issue relative to overall getting it done. We just want to get it done.”

Jones has already said that the team is prepared to use the franchise tag on Bryant in the event they can’t get a long-term deal done by the deadline to use the tag this offseason, so there’s no fear that Bryant will be leaving the team this offseason. Given the issues involved with reach an agreement, it wouldn’t come as a great shock to see the tag used to buy more time for contract talks designed to make sure Bryant’s highlights continue to benefit the Cowboys.

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Marc Trestman expects to return

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Black Monday has arrived and Chicago will be one of the towns we’re watching for changes as the day unfurls itself.

Chatter over the weekend was that there could be significant changes to the organization with president Ted Phillips, General Manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman all at serious risk of losing their jobs after a 5-11 season that saw just about everything that could go wrong misfire for the Bears.

After Sunday’s loss to the Vikings, Trestman said that he expects to be back and made his case as the right guy to oversee fixing the mess that he helped to create this season.

“I don’t have to go into the reasons that I expect to be back. I couldn’t look at it any other way or with any other kind of focus. My plan is to continue to finalize my notes now that the season is over and make sure that if the opportunity arises, I’ll be able to explain how we fix this thing. Because we have to get better,” Trestman said, via the Chicago Tribune. “Nobody understands the situation better than I do,” he said. “I’ve lived it every day for the last two years. And certainly the last six months. So I think I have some expertise in that area. And putting my thoughts down, I don’t think there’s anybody in a better position to assess it other than myself or Phil.”

We’ll know soon whether team ownership agrees with Trestman’s read on the situation, but status quo is going to be a tough sell for the Bears after a year that went off the rails as spectacularly as this one.

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A.J. Green in concussion protocol

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Bengals watchers spent last week monitoring wide receiver A.J. Green’s recovery from a bruised bicep and Green ultimately made it into the lineup for Sunday night’s loss to the Steelers.

The watch will be on again this week and it might be more difficult to get the same happy outcome for the Bengals. The team announced early Monday morning that Green is in the concussion protocol after suffering a concussion on a hit from Steelers safety Mike Mitchell in the fourth quarter of the game.

Green fumbled on the play, a turnover that all but sealed his team’s losing fate in Pittsburgh. Their chances of losing a second straight game to the Colts next Sunday will increase if Green isn’t able to progress through the protocol over the course of the week and there’s nothing that the Bengals or anyone else can do to speed the process along.

That will make for some tension in Cincinnati in the coming days as they wait to find out if Green will be able to help them avoid a fourth straight year with a loss in their first playoff game.

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Mike Smith: Ultimately, I’m the one held responsible

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The Falcons barely showed up against the Panthers with the NFC South title on the line on Sunday and that appears to be the final straw for Falcons coach Mike Smith.

There was a search firm contracted to help find the team’s next coach before the Falcons lost to Carolina and nothing that happened on the field Sunday made an argument for keeping him on the job any longer. Smith wouldn’t talk about the search firm report after the game, but knows that he can’t evade what comes with having a 6-10 record.

“I wish I would have done a whole lot of things better,” Smith said, via ESPN.com. “Ultimately, I’m the one that’s held responsible. This is a 6-10 football team, and there’s one person that the record is attributed to. That’s the head football coach, and we were 6-10 in 2014. There’s a whole lot of things I could have done differently and better. They’re all learning experiences, and I will take those and in the future, make sure that I don’t make the same mistakes that I made this season.”

At some point Monday, we expect to know for sure that Smith, who lead the Falcons to the playoffs in four of his first five years before crashing to 10 wins over the last two seasons, will be somewhere else when he shows what he’s learned from this experience.

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Tomlin says post-game incident with Nelson was unrelated to hit on Bell

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A post-game discussion between Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Bengals safety Reggie Nelson started fairly innocuously — before becoming heated before resulting in Bengals coach Marvin Lewis breaking it up.  The initial assumption was that Tomlin either objected to Nelson’s low hit on running back Le’Veon Bell or to Nelson’s arguably taunting after inflicting a knee injury.

Instead, Tomlin said after the game that it was totally unrelated to anything that happened on the field.

It’s not an illegal hit,” Tomlin told reporters.  “It’s not illegal. I did not [have an issue with it].”

So what happened between Tomlin and Nelson?

“You have to ask him about that,” Tomlin said.  “He was talking about some he-said, she-said type of a deal. I don’t know what he was talking about. . . .  I guess a teammate told him that I said something regarding him.  That’s untrue.  Ask him.  I have a lot of respect for Reggie Nelson.  He’s a good player.”

Via Coley Harvey of ESPN.com, Nelson refused to talk about the situation after the game.

The situation is bizarre, to say the least.  And it’s odd to think that any “he-said, she-said” disagreement involving a coach of one NFL team and a player on another NFL team would lead to an awkward post-game incident, under any circumstances.

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Report: Jets to “swiftly” fire Idzik, Ryan

Idzik AP

To little (or no) surprise, a new regime is coming to the Jets.

Chris Mortensen of ESPN reports that Jets owner Woody Johnson will move “swiftly” on Monday to fire G.M. John Idzik and coach Rex Ryan.

Idzik, who has been on the job for only two years and never got to hire his own coach, has had a disastrous run at the team’s personnel chief.  But Johnson contributed to that by forbidding Idzik from firing Ryan in 2013, creating differing agendas with Ryan hoping to win now to save his job and Idzik trying to build for the future.

Ultimately, Idzik got two years and Ryan six.  The former will likely get little consideration for G.M. vacancies; the latter could be considered for coaching jobs in Oakland, Atlanta, and Chicago.

As Peter King of TheMMQB.com explained on Football Night in America, the first order of business will be to hire a new G.M., with Ravens assistant G.M. Eric DeCosta and Vikings assistant G.M. George Paton believed to be the early frontrunners.  Former Buccaneers G.M. Mark Dominik also could get some consideration, along with Falcons assistant G.M. Scott Pioli.

Then there’s Falcons G.M. Thomas Dimitroff.  If owner Arthur Blank decides to clean house (and that would be a mistake), Dimitroff would surely rocket to the top of the list in New York.

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Mike Smith is “absolutely done” in Atlanta

Smith Getty Images

Black Monday is here, and one of the first guys to be gone will be Falcons coach Mike Smith.  Per a league source with knowledge of the situation, Smith is “absolutely done” after seven seasons with the team.

It’s hardly a surprise; owner Arthur Blank already has hired a search firm to find the next head coach.

Some will think that Smith lost his job once he lost Sunday’s NFC South championship game.  But he likely was gone even if the Falcons had won on Sunday.  He likely would have been gone even if the Falcons had won in the wild-card round.

Before Smith’s arrival, the Falcons had never had consecutive winning seasons.  Smith led them to five in a row.  But a 4-12 season followed by 6-10 has sealed Smith’s fate.

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