Patriots find themselves caught in litigation between Bret Bielema, Razorback Foundation

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins
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Coaches who get fired with years remaining on guaranteed contracts have two options: Don’t work and get paid 100 cents on the dollar by the former employer or take a job and see the amount owed from the former employer reduced by the money earned at a new job.

Basically, the coach who takes another job usually will end up working for free, unless he somehow makes more money in his new job.

If the coach takes a new job, there’s a temptation by the coach and the new employer to pay the coach peanuts, in order to maximize the financial obligation of the former employer. Michael McCann of Sportico.com explains that a subplot along those lines has emerged in litigation between former Arkansas coach Bret Bielema and the Razorback Foundation, and that the New England Patriots currently are caught in the crossfire.

The lawyer representing the Razorback Foundation has suggested in a letter to the presiding judge that Bielema and agent Neil Cornrich hatched a “scheme” that would “place Bielema in a low-paying position with the Patriots while he was still receiving payments from the Foundation.” The Patriots strongly dispute this interpretation of 458 pages of documents produced by the team regarding the hiring and employment of Bielema.

“The Patriots, paid Mr. Bielema a fair and reasonable sum for this work and undoubtedly could have offered him substantially less for the work he performed,” Patriots lawyer Brandon Bigelow wrote in response to the Razorback Foundation’s lawyer.

Per McCann, the Razorback Foundation has implied that the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick could be added to the litigation regarding Bielema’s buyout. Such a tactic would make it difficult, frankly, for Arkansas to hire top-level coaches in the future and for former Arkansas coaches to find employment elsewhere after being fired.

Even without actually suing the Patriots or Belichick, any effort to whittle away at the sunk costs from a failed former coach will make a prospective coach reluctant about landing in that very same spot. The whole thing makes the Razorback Foundation look cheap, petty, and vindictive.

Bigelow made that same point, in more artful language.

“It is obvious that what the Foundation is really doing is seeking improper leverage in a simple breach of contract dispute with a former coach,” Bigelow wrote to Foundation’s lawyer. “As this matter proceeds, you also should consider how it might appear to others for the Foundation to be asserting frivolous claims against and harassing a professional football team for simply providing an opportunity to a fired college football coach.”

The case between Bielema and the Razorback Foundation currently is scheduled to go to trial on June 1.

Chiefs’ Bashaud Breeland will play Sunday

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Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland will play tomorrow against the Bills.

The Chiefs announced today that Breeland has cleared the concussion protocol and is no longer on the team’s injury report.

Yesterday the Chiefs listed Breeland as questionable with both a concussion and a shoulder injury, but now he’s out of the protocol, and the shoulder injury apparently isn’t serious enough to keep him from playing.

Breeland is a starter when healthy, and the Chiefs would have missed him against Josh Allen & Co. if he hadn’t been able to play. Today’s news is good news in Kansas City.

Brandon Staley of 2016 wouldn’t be as surprised as everyone else about his quick rise

NFL: DEC 29 Chargers at Chiefs
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Five years ago, Brandon Staley served as defensive coordinator at John Carroll University, a Division III institution in Ohio. Five years later, he’s the new coach of the Los Angeles Chargers.

How surprised would Brandon Staley of 2016 be about the developments of the past five years?

“I don’t think he would be as surprised as everybody else,” Staley said in a Friday appearance on PFT PM. “[I]t doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, but I think the people that were with me in 2016, my players, my coaches, I think they would’ve bet on it. Maybe not this quickly, but I bet you they’d bet that I could do it. I’ve always had that belief in myself because I’ve always known what I’ve invested in my game. And that 2016 defense that I was a part of at John Carroll, that’s as good of a defense I’ve ever been a part of and I’ve been a part of two No. 1 defenses in the NFL. That was a special group of guys.

“I had a strong sense that I could do it at this level. And I think that when I got to Chicago in 2017 it kind of solidified my belief system. And then I think what you do is over the course of the next four years, then you’re just getting ready. I mean you’re ready, but when you get that opportunity, you’re ready to go with it. I’m fortunate to be around a lot of great people; coaches, players. So thankful for all of them to make it happen. That’s why I’m here.”

His break came when landing with the Bears in 2017, and he realized that his methods would work at the NFL level.

“[T]here’s that transition that’s real,” Staley said. “Like there’s that transition of, ‘Okay, I’m coaching a pro player.’ And that relationship is different, but it’s still a relationship which I feel like is a strength of mine. I think once I got to see it for myself and be with the great coaches like a Vic Fangio meant so much to me. A guy that’s seen so much. And Ed Donatell, John Fox, all these people that mean a lot to me. I think once I got there with those guys and saw what the NFL really was like, that was a big confidence builder.”

It built enough confidence to result in Staley getting, frankly, the best job available in the current hiring cycle. And it sounds like Brandon Staley is ready to continue to climb, to improve, and to show that his methods translate very well to the modern NFL.

Josh Allen’s father battling COVID-19, was hospitalized this month

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Bills quarterback Josh Allen has been playing great football this season while his family has been struggling.

Allen lost his grandmother in 2020, news that became widely known as fans donated more than $1 million to Oishei Children’s Hospital in her memory. What has been less well known is that Allen’s father has been battling COVID-19.

Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times reports that Joel Allen, who flies all across the country to attend his son’s games when he can, won’t be at Sunday’s game because he’s recovering from COVID-19 and pneumonia and was hospitalized this month.

As great athletes so often do, Allen has been able to keep his focus on the field, having an outstanding season and now taking the Bills one win away from the Super Bowl.

Patrick Mahomes has highest passer rating ever, both regular season and playoffs

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The NFL’s official statistic for quantifying passing efficiency is passer rating, which considers completion percentage, yards per pass, touchdowns and interceptions. Passer rating is far from a perfect stat, but at a glance it provides a good look at how efficient a quarterback is.

And Patrick Mahomes is the NFL’s all-time leader, both in the regular season and in the postseason.

To qualify for the regular season record, a quarterback must have thrown 1,500 career passes. Mahomes topped that mark in the 2020 season and now has thrown 1,687 passes in his career. He has a career passer rating of 108.7, topping Deshaun Watson‘s 104.5, Aaron Rodgers‘ 103.9, Russell Wilson‘s 101.7 and Drew Brees‘s 98.7.

It’s noteworthy that everyone in the Top 5 was active during the 2020 NFL season. Quarterbacks are much more efficient now than they used to be, and that’s one of the flaws with passer rating: It doesn’t adjust for era, so it’s always going to favor the modern passers.

But that’s what makes Mahomes breaking the postseason record so noteworthy. Mahomes has a career postseason passer rating of 106.6, and when Mahomes reached the minimum of 150 postseason passes to qualify, he broke a record that Bart Starr had held since the 1960s.

It’s a testament to how great Starr was in big games that he had a postseason passer rating of 104.8, still second only to Mahomes in NFL history. NFL passing offenses were so different during Starr’s era that most of the passing numbers from those days look laughably bad. (In 1969 Starr led the league with an 89.9 passer rating, while in 2020 the league average passer rating was 93.6.) In the playoffs, Starr put up numbers in the 1960s that look excellent even in 2020.

Mahomes is now putting up numbers that the NFL has never seen before.

Alicia Landry, Tom Landry’s widow, dies at 91

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The woman behind one of the most respected coaches in NFL history has died. Alicia Landry, the wife of Hall of Fame Cowboys coach Tom Landry, was 91.

Tom became the first coach in team history in 1960, guiding the team for 29 seasons, through 1988. He died of leukemia in 2000, after the couple had been married 51 years.

Alicia Landry met her husband on a blind date in 1947. They married 17 months later.

Her legacy will endure for decades, if not centuries. The Dallas Morning News suggests that Alicia Landry provided the inspiration for the iconic star on the team’s helmet.

Her son, Tom Jr., said that she offered this input regarding the headgear to be worn by the fledgling Cowboys, “A star would be perfect.”

More specifically, Alicia Landry had direct and complete responsibility for the headgear that helped make her husband a towering figure in football history. After he got the job as coach of the expansion team, Tom and others thought he should wear a cowboy hat on the sideline.

“No, no, no, do not do that,’’ Alicia told him, per Tom Jr. “A fedora is what you need.’’

We extend our condolences to the Landry family.

Dan Campbell says Lions’ players matter more than the system

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Dan Campbell is a rarity in that he’s becoming a head coach without ever having been a coordinator. Which has some asking what kind of system Campbell will run in Detroit.

Campbell says the answer is that it’s not about the system. It’s about the players.

I’m not a system guy,” Campbell said, via the Detroit News. “I’ve been through all of them, I’ve seen all of them, so I’m not caught up on that. I’m going to find the best coordinators that are going to come in, and he’s going to have a vision of how he wants to run it with mine.”

Campbell spent the last five years on Sean Payton’s staff with the Saints but said that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll run an offense that looks like Payton’s.

“There’s concepts that I know work, that we did well [in New Orleans], that I’m going to implement and want to implement. But other than that, let’s put our guys in the best position to have success. That’s what I’m about,” Campbell said.

Campbell has not yet hired his offensive coordinator, but he appears to be looking for a personnel fit, not a scheme fit.

Bears show interest in adding Duce Staley to coaching staff

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Eagles assistant head coach and running backs coach Duce Staley was passed over after interviewing for Philadelphia’s head-coaching job, and now another team is interested in getting Staley to jump ship.

The Bears have interest in adding Staley to their staff, according to Adam Jahns of TheAthletic.com.

Chicago has not yet interviewed Staley and would need the Eagles’ permission to do so. Teams don’t have to let assistant coaches leave, although in Staley’s case if he wants to leave, it would be awkward for the Eagles to force him to stay after he was passed over for the head-coaching job.

Staley has been on the Eagles’ staff in various capacities for 10 years, including two years working alongside Bears head coach Matt Nagy. Staley also played for the Eagles from 1997 to 2003.

NFL bans private workouts, facility visits with draft prospects

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The NFL announced this week a change to the 2021 Scouting Combine, canceling in-person workouts. In a Friday night memo, the league informed teams of changes to the pre-draft process beyond the Combine.

Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reports the NFL is prohibiting scouts from timing, testing, interviewing in-person or giving medical exams to any draft-eligible player at any location except a school’s pro day or at an all-star game. The league cited ongoing concerns surrounding COVID-19,

It bans private workouts, facility visits, dinners and film sessions with draft prospects. Schools hosting pro days are allowed a maximum of five players classified as “Designated Underclassmen” to participate in a pro day.

Teams also are limited to three representatives at any pro day.

NFL teams can begin conducting phone or video interviews with underclassmen Monday and with seniors on Feb. 1.

Bears announce the promotion of Sean Desai to defensive coordinator

NFL: OCT 04 Colts at Bears
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The Bears announced the promotion of Sean Desai from safeties coach to defensive coordinator. Desai, 37, replaces Chuck Pagano, who announced his retirement Jan. 13 after 36 years in coaching.

Desai originally joined the Bears in 2013 and is the only remaining holdover from former coach Marc Trestman’s staff. Desai spent six seasons as a defensive quality control assistant from 2013-18 before the Bears promoted him to safeties coach in 2019.

“We are very fortunate and excited to promote from within and announce Sean Desai has been named defensive coordinator for our football team,” coach Matt Nagy said in a statement. “He is a person of high football intelligence, extremely detail-oriented, has a very strong work ethic and I cannot think of someone more deserving to lead our defense.

“Sean is a family man of high character and the respect he has within our building from coaches, players and staff is unparalleled.”

Former Bears, Broncos kicker Roger LeClerc dies at 84

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Former Bears kicker Roger LeClerc died Thursday, the team announced. He was 84.

LeClerc was a member of the Bears’ 1963 NFL championship team.

The Bears selected LeClerc in the 15th round of the 1959 draft out of Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He spent the first seven seasons of his eight-year NFL career with the Bears.

From 1960-66, LeClerc appeared in 96 games. He made 76 of 152 field-goal attempts (50 percent) with a long of 50 yards and 152 of 158 extra-point tries (96.2 percent).

LeClerc also played center and linebacker. He registered his only career interception in a 1963 game, and, in 1964, he made 12 of his 17 career starts at linebacker.

LeClerc spent his final season in the American Football League with the Denver Broncos in 1967.

LeClerc taught math in the Agawam, Massachusetts, school system for 30 years after his retirement from football.

Ravens announce the hirings of Rob Ryan, Anthony Weaver

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The Ravens announced the hirings of Rob Ryan and Anthony Weaver to their defensive staff. Ryan will serve as inside linebackers coach and Weaver as run game coordinator/defensive line coach.

In a news release, head coach John Harbaugh said the team continues to interview candidates for their defensive backs coaching position.

“Rob is a proven NFL coach who brings extensive experience to the Ravens,” Harbaugh said in a statement. “In addition to his passion for the game, he has an outstanding ability to connect with and teach players.

“Anthony is highly regarded throughout the NFL. As a former Ravens’ draft pick who made significant contributions while playing here, he understands the culture of our organization and the standard to which Baltimore defense is held.”

Ryan, 58, is a 20-year NFL coaching veteran who most recently served in the same role for the Washington Football Team in 2019.

Weaver enters his 12th season of coaching, including his 10th in the NFL. He played seven NFL seasons, including his first four seasons in Baltimore. Weaver began coaching in 2010.

Weaver served as defensive coordinator/defensive line coach for the Texans in 2020.

Texans’ Josh McCown interview makes mockery of process

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Josh McCown is a great player and a great person, one of the most underrated quarterbacks of the past generation. But McCown should not be considered for a head-coaching position in the NFL. Not yet.

Maybe in time he’ll become a head coach, and maybe he’ll be a great one. Maybe he’ll win Super Bowls. Maybe there eventually will be a bronze bust in the Hall of Fame that looks conspicuously like Dolph Lundgren.

That doesn’t mean that the Texans or anyone else should interview someone with no coaching experience to be an NFL head coach. And it reveals a stunning lack of self-awareness by the Texans, a franchise that has become regarded as the most dysfunctional in football.

Or maybe the Texans are fully aware, and maybe they’ve extended a middle finger to anyone who would say that Jack Easterby isn’t qualified to serve as executive V.P. of football operations and/or that Easterby has owner Cal McNair somewhere between bamboozled and hypnotized. It’s fitting, frankly, that a team with a grossly unfit executive V.P. of football operations would consider a grossly unprepared candidate for coach.

Easterby is so far over his skis that he thinks he’s learned to fly. But the only opinion that matters belongs to McNair, who seems to think Easterby is soaring like an eagle.

In this specific case, the decision to consider McCown for a head-coaching job with no coaching experience becomes an affront to all qualified candidates, regardless of race. And, please, don’t play the “he did coaching as a quarterback” card. All quarterbacks worth their cleats do coaching. Does that mean Philip Rivers, who’ll coach high-school football now that he has retired, should have been interviewed by the Chargers?

Does that mean anyone instantly will be offering head-coaching jobs to Drew Brees or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers as their playing careers end?

In a cycle that has seen five of six head-coaching jobs go to white candidates and no Black coaches hired, the ultimate indignity has come from the Texans, who have interviewed — and by all appearances are considering — making Josh McCown the head coach without ever working as a coach at the college or NFL level.

Former Broncos, Browns offensive lineman Tony Jones dies at 54

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Two-time Super Bowl champion Tony Jones has died, the Broncos announced Friday. He was 54.

The 13-year NFL veteran spent four seasons with the Broncos, playing offensive tackle from 1997-2000. He served as the team’s right tackle during its first championship season in 1997 and held future Hall of Famer Reggie White without a sack in Super Bowl XXXII.

Jones manned the left tackle position in 1998 as Denver earned another title. Jones earned Pro Bowl honors that season as he protected John Elway’s blindside.

Jones started 60 games in his time in Denver.

Jones entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Browns in 1988 and spent eight seasons in Cleveland. Jones was a second-team All-Pro in 1994.

Jones played for the Ravens in 1996 before the Broncos traded a second-round pick to acquire him in February 1997.

“We lost a great man,” Rod Smith, a Ring of Fame receiver for the Broncos, posted on social media. “Just happened to be a hell of a ball playa. We love you and miss you Bone. One of the Broncos all time best tackles. greatest dresser of ALL-TIME!”

Willie Anderson and Steve Atwater also expressed their condolences.

“He was an amazing guy, a heck of a nice guy,” Atwater said. “Great football player — mean, nasty. That’s the kind of guy that you want to go to war with if you’re going to war.”

Patrick Mahomes says toe “feeling a lot better”

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Patrick Mahomes‘ toe became a footnote when he was diagnosed with a concussion in the second half of last Sunday’s victory over the Browns.

The toe, though, stands as more of a danger of preventing Mahomes from being Mahomes after an independent neurologist cleared the Chiefs quarterback Friday to return to action in the AFC Championship Game.

“Going to the doctors, talking to all the doctors and going through the test, we have the belief that [there] will be no longer effects, and I’ll be able to go out there and be myself and be who I am every single week,” Mahomes said Friday, via Matt Derrick of Chiefs Digest.

Mahomes injured his left big toe in the first quarter against the Browns and was limping on it until he departed with the concussion. No one outside the organization knows exactly how the toe is, because he was limited in every practice with the concussion. (He also was listed with the toe injury, but would the toe have limited him in practice if he hadn’t had the concussion? Only the Chiefs know for sure.)

Andy Reid downplayed the toe injury earlier in the week, and Mahomes did the same Friday.

Mahomes said his toe was “feeling a lot better.”

“The next day was very sore, and every single day since then it’s gotten a lot better,” Mahomes said. “It’s stuff that you deal with being a football player. You deal with injuries. Luckily enough for me, this wasn’t as bad as it looked, and it felt that day of and the day after.”

Nonetheless, expect Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier to attempt to test Mahomes’ mobility early to find out. Mahomes had 10 carries for 36 yards in the Week 6 meeting between the teams, which the Chiefs won 26-17.