Gronk thinks Tom Brady would pick the Buccaneers over the Raiders

Rams Bucs in NFL Playoff
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Tom Brady doesn’t want to talk about where he’ll play next season. His friend and former teammate, Rob Gronkowski, has no such hesitation.

Via SI.com, Gronk said that Brady is more likely to return to the Buccaneers for a fourth season than to join the Raiders.

Those were the only two options presented to Gronkowski. Brady likely will have other potential destinations to choose from.

The answer will surprise many because there’s a belief Brady definitely won’t return to Tampa Bay. Maybe things will change enough to make it enticing. Maybe the proximity to his children will make the difference.

Then there’s the question of whether Alex Guerrero will be willing to pack up and go wherever Brady goes.

Regardless, perhaps the Bucs need to be taken more seriously as Brady ponders his options for 2023. If a close friend like Gronk thinks Brady would pick the Bucs over the Raiders, it’s worth taking seriously.

Rams announce Mike LaFleur hiring

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The Rams announced the hiring of Mike LaFleur as their new offensive coordinator.

LaFleur replaces Liam Coen, who left to return to the University of Kentucky as its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

LaFleur spent the past two seasons as offensive coordinator for the Jets, having followed Robert Saleh there from San Francisco. LaFleur was the 49ers’ passing game coordinator from 2017-20 under head coach Kyle Shanahan.

He also worked alongside Shanahan with the Falcons in 2015-16 and with the Browns in 2014.

LaFleur called the plays with the Jets, but head coach Sean McVay has called the plays for the Rams since his arrival in 2017.

LaFleur’s older brother, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, was the Rams’ offensive coordinator in McVay’s first year coaching the Rams.

Chris Jones walks off with “see y’all at Burrowhead Stadium”

NFL: DEC 04 Chiefs at Bengals
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The Bengals are salty. The Chiefs are salty. It makes for an extra-sweet AFC Championship.

The Bengals relish being overlooked, disregarded, and underestimated. They believe they got a raw deal from the league in the aftermath of the cancellation of the Week 17 game against the Bills.

But they balance their salt with swagger. They believe they’ll go to Kansas City and win. And they were calling Arrowhead Stadium “Burrowhead” during the divisional round win in Buffalo.

The Chiefs have noticed. Defensive lineman Chris Jones referred to it as “Burrowhead” during a Friday press conference. He eventually walked off by saying, “See y’all at Burrowhead Stadium.”

The fact that the Bengals recently have owned the best team in the AFC makes this one extra spicy. The Bengals are upset, generally. The Chiefs are upset that so many people think the Bengals will win a second straight AFC Championship  in Kansas City.

However it plays out, here’s hoping for a great game. That way, regardless of which team wins, we all will.

Falcons fire three defensive assistants after hiring Ryan Nielsen

NFL: JUL 28 Falcons Training Camp
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The Falcons hired Ryan Nielsen as their new defensive coordinator Friday. That meant the end of three defensive assistants’ time in Atlanta.

The team announced it has parted ways with defensive line coach Gary Emanuel, outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino and secondary coach Jon Hoke.

Nielsen, who is leaving the Saints, will get to hire most of his own staff.

Emanuel just completed his second season with the Falcons, his 40th season of coaching overall. He also previously has coached the defensive line of the 49ers (2005-06), Colts (2012-17) and Giants (2018-19).

Monachino coached two seasons in Atlanta, and 2022 was his 16th season of coaching in the NFL. He previously was defensive line coach of the Jaguars (2006–09), the outside linebackers coach of the Ravens (2010-15), defensive coordinator of the Colts (2016-17) and senior defensive assistant and outside linebackers coach of the Bears (2019-20).

Hoke was with the Falcons for two seasons as well. He has 42 years of coaching experience, including 18 in the NFL. Hoke also was defensive backs coach of the Texans (2002-08), Bears (2009-14) and Bucs (2016-18).

The Falcons recorded 21 sacks this season, which ranked 31st in the league, and they were 23rd in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed.

Jimmy Garoppolo says possible Super Bowl return “still up in the air”

Miami Dolphins v San Francisco 49ers
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Jimmy Garoppolo fractured his foot early in the 49ers’ Week 13 game against the Dolphins. The quarterback returned to the practice field for rehab work on the side last week.

He is not ready to return to action this week.

Garoppolo told Matt Barrows of TheAthletic.com on Friday that “he can do everything on his still-mending foot but sprint.”

Garoppolo was non-committal on a return for Super Bowl LVII should the 49ers beat the Eagles on Sunday.

“That’s still up in the air,” Garoppolo told Barrows.

The 49ers never placed Garoppolo on injured reserve, leaving open the possibility he could return before the end of the season to back up rookie Brock Purdy. Josh Johnson, who joined the team after Garoppolo’s injury, currently is the No. 2 quarterback.

Garoppolo, who is scheduled to become a free agent in March, completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,437 yards with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Falcons hire Ryan Nielsen as defensive coordinator

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons
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The Falcons have their new defensive coordinator.

Ryan Nielsen, who has spent the last six seasons coaching the defensive line in New Orleans, is the new defensive coordinator in Atlanta, the Falcons announced today.

Other candidates the Falcons were known to be considering included former Broncos head coach Vic Fangio, Steelers senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach Brian Flores, Panthers interim defensive coordinator Al Holcomb and Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero. The Falcons have been looking for a new defensive coordinator since Dean Pees retired at the end of the season.

The 43-year-old Nielsen worked at North Carolina State, Northern Illinois, UT-Martin, Central Connecticut State, Ole Miss and USC before he was hired by the Saints.

Report: Bucs plan to interview Todd Monken next week

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Arkansas at Georgia
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The Buccaneers plan to interview University of Georgia assistant coach Todd Monken next week for their open offensive coordinator position, Jeanna Laine of ESPN reports.

Monken currently is the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at UGA, a job he has held since 2020.

He was offensive coordinator for the Bucs from 2016-18 before serving as the Browns’ offensive coordinator in 2019.

Monken’s other experience is in the college ranks.

The Bucs fired offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich on Jan. 19, one of nine vacancies they have to fill on their coaching staff for 2023.

They have interviewed Jaguars passing game coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, Vikings wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell and Broncos passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak for the offensive coordinator opening. The Bucs have requested an interview with Giants quarterbacks coach Shea Tierney.

Report: Patriots interviewing Bills assistant Ryan Wendell for offensive line coach job

Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots
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The Patriots will interview Bills assistant coach Ryan Wendell for their vacant offensive line position, Albert Breer of SI.com reports.

The team is flying Wendell to Las Vegas, where the Patriots’ staff is coaching in the East-West Shrine Game.

Wendell played in New England from 2008-15 during Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien’s first stint in Foxboro.

Oregon run game coordinator Adrian Klemm, another candidate for the job, also is expected to conduct his interview for the job in Las Vegas, per Breer.

Wendell just completed his third season as the Bills assistant offensive line coach. He began his coaching career in 2019 as a coaching assistant with the Bills.

David Long: Of course I’d love to stay in Tennessee, but that’s not my decision

NFL: DEC 04 Titans at Eagles
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The Titans made linebacker David Long Jr. a sixth-round choice in 2019. In his four seasons, he made 230 tackles, four interceptions, 14 pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

Long now is headed toward free agency this spring.

“Of course I’d love to stay here,” Long said, via Jim Wyatt of the team website. “I think I have done my part as far as any time I’m on the field, that’s what I can control – I think I did my part. Anything other than that I am going to leave it up to God and my agent and stuff like that.

“But that’s not my decision. I feel like I took care of business on the field, and we’ll see how it goes.”

Long has missed 12 games the past two seasons because of hamstring injuries. He sat out the final five of this season.

“I play at a certain level, and for me to play at that level, I have to be a certain way physically and I just wasn’t,” Long said of ending the year on injured reserve. “It was very tough. You put the work in all offseason, hopefully to end the season healthy. But the ball didn’t roll my way this year. I feel like the time I was on the field I gave it my all so I can’t really be mad.”

Kyler Murray posts photo of his reconstructed knee

New England Patriots v Arizona Cardinals
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Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray underwent surgery Jan. 3 to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Almost a month into his rehab, Murray posted a photo on his Instagram feed.

Murray is rehabbing away from the team facility, the team website confirms from the photo.

In the photo, Murray is sitting on a trainer’s table, looking forlorn, with his surgically repaired knee obviously swollen.

Since Murray’s last game, the Cardinals have parted ways with General Manager Steve Keim and coach Kliff Kingsbury. They have hired a new G.M., announcing Monti Ossenfort.

The Cardinals will have a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator and a new offensive system and will have to install it without Murray on the practice field to learn it.

There is a good chance Murray misses the start of the 2023 season.

Philadelphia police greasing light poles in anticipation of fans climbing them in celebration

Super Bowl LII - Philadelphia Eagles Victory Parade
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The Philadelphia police are trying to dissuade Eagles fans from going overboard on Sunday.

Police said that they will be greasing light and traffic poles to prevent them from being climbed during what may be a raucous celebration if the Eagles beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.

“We will be instituting the practice of ‘greasing poles’ as a deterrent for climbing poles and light fixtures,” a police spokesperson told Fox 29. “We encourage everyone to celebrate safely and responsibly.”

It’s a Philadelphia tradition, and a technique that the police also employed the last time the Eagles were in the NFC Championship Game.

Buccaneers announce interview with Dan Pitcher for OC

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v San Francisco 49ers
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The Buccaneers have continued their search for a new offensive coordinator with an offensive assistant still involved in the postseason.

Tampa Bay announced on Friday that the franchise conducted a virtual interview with Bengals quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher.

Pitcher has been with Cincinnati since 2016. He was one of the holdovers from former head coach Marvin Lewis’ staff, as he went from an offensive assistant working with receivers to assistant quarterbacks coach in 2019. When Alex Van Pelt left the club to become Cleveland’s offensive coordinator, Pitcher was promoted to QBs coach in 2020.

He’s helped Joe Burrow develop into one of the league’s best quarterbacks over the last three seasons. After Burrow led the league with a 70.4 percent completion rate in 2021, the quarterback threw for 4,475 yards with 35 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2022.

The Buccaneers have also announced interviews with Broncos passing game coordinator and QBs coach Klint Kubiak, Vikings receivers coach Keenan McCardell, and Jaguars quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter. The club is also reportedly set to interview Giants QBs coach Shea Tierney.

Tampa Bay fired Byron Leftwich after the team’s loss to Dallas in the wild card round.

A year after being blocked from going to Miami, Clyde Christensen was basically forced out in Tampa

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Indianapolis Colts
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There’s a very interesting nugget lurking in the article from Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times regarding former Buccaneers quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen.

Two of them, actually.

First, the Buccaneers blocked Christensen from leaving last year to become the offensive coordinator of the Dolphins. The move would have included a “significant pay increase.” It also would have positioned Christensen to work with quarterback Tom Brady again, if Brady’s plan to land in Miami had come to fruition.

Second, although Christensen’s departure from Tampa Bay’s coaching staff has been characterized as a retirement, he was pushed out. They’re paying him for 2023, the final year of his contract.

It will be interesting to see whether Christensen resurfaces with Brady’s new team, if Brady ends up with a new team. The Bucs would save money if they allow it, up to the total amount he’s owed.

Christian McCaffrey off injury report, Elijah Mitchell questionable

NFC Divisional Playoffs - Dallas Cowboys v San Francisco 49ers
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On Thursday, 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey said there was “zero” chance he’d miss the NFC Championship Game.

San Francisco’s final injury report of the week confirmed that.

After McCaffrey was on the field for Friday’s session, the running back has no designation for Sunday’s matchup with the Eagles and is expected to play, head coach Kyle Shanahan said in his press conference.

McCaffrey has been dealing with a calf injury. He didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday.

While reporters did not see running back Elijah Mitchell at Friday’s practice, Shanahan said after that Mitchell was a limited participant. He’s listed as questionable with his groin injury after he also didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday.

Cornerback Ambry Thomas (ankle) is also questionable. He hasn’t played since Week 17.

And quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is out with his foot injury. There’s a chance he could be ready to back up Brock Purdy if the 49ers advance to Super Bowl LVII.

Travis Kelce added to practice report and is questionable with back injury

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The Chiefs will have quarterback Patrick Mahomes for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game against the Bengals. His ankle injury did not keep him from practicing fully all week, and Mahomes officially does not have a designation.

That’s the good news for the Chiefs.

The troublesome news is the team added tight end Travis Kelce to the practice report Friday with a back injury. Despite a full practice, Kelce is listed as questionable.

He made 14 catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns in the divisional round win over the Jaguars after a regular season that saw him set personal bests with 110 catches and 12 touchdowns. Kelce’s 1,338 yards was the second-most of his career.

The Chiefs also list receiver Mecole Hardman (pelvis) and receiver Justin Watson (illness) as questionable. Watson was added to the report Friday after he missed practice.

Hardman was limited all three practices this week.

Linebacker Nick Bolton (ankle) and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) also popped up on the report Friday with limited practices, but neither has a designation for Sunday.