Lawyer representing Steve Wilks: “There is a legitimate race problem in the NFL”

Carolina Panthers v Seattle Seahawks
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When Panthers owner David Tepper made Steve Wilks the interim head coach on October 10, Tepper was asked whether Wilks had a shot to keep the job beyond 2022.

If he does an incredible job, he has to be in consideration,” Tepper said.

Wilks arguably did an incredible job. He forced the team into playoff contention. He won the loyalty, admiration, and respect of his players. Players spoke up in his favor.

Now, the team that fired its head coach during the season has hired a coach who was fired by another team during the season, instead of Wilks. And Doug Wigdor, who represents Wilks in the pending Brian Flores racial discrimination case against the league and several teams, has made it clear that Wigdor and Wilks have a problem with the move.

“We are shocked and disturbed that after the incredible job Coach Wilks did as the interim coach, including bringing the team back into playoff contention and garnering the support of the players and fans, that he was passed over for the head coach position by David Tepper,” Wigdor said in a statement that was both circulated by email and tweeted. “There is a legitimate race problem in the NFL, and we can assure you that we will have more to say in the coming days.”

This clearly implies that the Panthers could soon be added to the pending lawsuit as yet another defendant, for not giving Wilks a chance to do from scratch that which he was able to do after Tepper tasked Wilks with the inherently difficult position of trying to win with a team that was bad enough to get its coach fired less than a month into the season.

Brandon Beane: Bills expect Von Miller to play a good portion of 2023, maybe all of 2023

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Bills edge rusher Von Miller tore his ACL on Thanksgiving, but General Manager Brandon Beane thinks Miller will be ready to make a big impact in 2023.

“I think Von’s in a good spot. I think he’s doing well,” Beane said, via the Buffalo News. “I expect him for a good portion of 2023; I’m not ruling out all of 2023, but I don’t want to say that, either. I think it’s too early.”

The Bills’ defense fell off after Miller’s injury, and Beane acknowledged that replacing him proved difficult.

“You don’t have a replacement in the cabinet for Von Miller, and our D-line was really playing well with Von out there,” Beane said. “He allows more guys to be singled up.”

Miller said this week that he thinks the Bills’ Super Bowl window is still open. Miller and Beane are both expecting Miller to be a big part of a big season, one that they hope is still going a year from now.

Zac Taylor “not ready” to rule Alex Cappa, Jonah Williams out

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The Bengals have not had right guard Alex Cappa or left tackle Jonah Williams on the field for the last two weeks, but Bengals head coach Zac Taylor isn’t saying that they’ll miss Sunday’s game against the Chiefs.

Taylor told reporters on Thursday that he’s “not ready” to make a call on the availability of either player for the AFC Championship Game. Cappa is sidelined by an ankle injury and Williams has a knee injury, but Taylor said that both players are improving every day.

Friday will bring another practice session and it will be very difficult to see either player in the lineup if they miss that session as well.

Jackson Carman started in place of Williams last Sunday and Max Scharping played in Cappa’s place.

Report: Anthony Campanile will interview for Dolphins’ defensive coordinator job Friday

Miami Dolphins Training Camp
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The Dolphins are interviewing linebackers coach Anthony Campanile for the team’s defensive coordinator job on Friday, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN reports.

The Dolphins fired Josh Boyer on Jan. 19 after three seasons.

His unit ranked sixth in points allowed in his first year as defensive coordinator but ranked 16th in 2021 and 24th this past season.

The other candidates for the job are Seahawks associate head coach for defense Sean Desai, former Broncos head coach Vic Fangio and Saints co-defensive coordinator/secondary coach Kris Richard. Richard had his interview Thursday, per Fowler.

Campanile, 40, joined the Dolphins in 2020 and remained on staff after the head coaching change from Brian Flores to Mike McDaniel. He previously coached at Michigan, Boston College and Rutgers.

Frank Reich gets a crack at the Colts, right away

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It remains to be seen who the Colts will hire to replace Frank Reich. Whoever it is will have to be ready to face Frank Reich, at some point in the 2023 season.

Yes, the Colts are one of the teams the Panthers host next year.

The fact that Reich landed on his feet without sitting out a season becomes a potential referendum on the decision to fire him in the first place. It puts extra pressure on the Colts and owner Jim Irsay to win the game at Carolina — especially if Irsay ultimately picks surprise interim hire Jeff Saturday, who went 2-6 in eight games, to be the head coach moving forward.

Reich played for the Panthers in 1995, the team’s inaugural season. And he coached the Colts for four-plus campaigns, after winning a Super Bowl as offensive coordinator of the Eagles.

Reich took the Colts to the playoffs twice. His first season ended with a loss to the Chiefs in the divisional round. Then things got nutty, with the surprise late-August retirement of Andrew Luck. Reich nevertheless took the Colts to the wild-card round in 2020, where they nearly upended the Bills as the No. 7 seed in the AFC.

The decision to give Reich an immediate shot to coach again after being fired makes even more curious the failure of any of the five teams with vacancies to even consider other former coaches who were and still are available, especially since several of them (Bill O’Brien, Jason Garrett, Marvin Lewis, Mike Zimmer, Chuck Pagano) were more accomplished than Reich.

Of course, Reich likely would have done even more with more luck, and more Luck. And Reich will get a chance to give all fired coaches a boost in the 2024 cycle if he can win right away in Carolina.

Art Rooney II on possibility of neutral site championship games: I hate the idea

NFL: NOV 20 Bengals at Steelers
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The league may want neutral site championship games, but that doesn’t mean the owners do. The idea will need the approval of 24 owners to become a reality, and that might be a hard sell for teams with weather and/or fan noise that give them a home-field advantage.

Steelers president Art Rooney II strongly opposes the idea.

I hate the idea,” Rooney said Thursday, via audio from 93.7 The Fan. “I don’t like that at all. My sense is that if you put that up for a vote it wouldn’t pass today, but who knows.”

Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt pushed the idea for a long time, but ownership never went for it.

However, neutral site championship games in the future gained some traction after Bills and Chiefs fans bought 50,000 tickets in 24 hours for a potential AFC Championship Game in Atlanta. It didn’t happen, of course, after the Bengals beat the Bills in the divisional round.

But as PFT has reported the NFL envies the atmosphere of major college bowl games as well as the increased revenue stream that would come with having cities bid on the right to host the conference championship games and sponsorship of the games.

The question remains: Even if neutral site championship games means increased revenue for them, will 24 owners ever agree to it?

Christian McCaffrey won’t practice Thursday, but says he’s playing Sunday

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Seattle Seahawks v San Francisco 49ers
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While head coach Kyle Shanahan said he’s expecting his running backs to be available for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, two of them still won’t practice on Thursday.

Via multiple reporters, Shanahan said in his press conference that Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell won’t be on the field for Thursday’s session.

But, McCaffrey told reporters there’s “zero” chance he’s missing Sunday’s game.

McCaffrey is dealing with a calf injury. He was shown during the FOX broadcast of last week’s divisional-round win over the Cowboys on the sideline with a wrap on his calf and doing some work to keep it loose. McCaffrey finished that game with 35 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown plus six catches for 22 yards. He was on the field for 67 percent of San Francisco’s offensive plays, which is a down a little from where he’s been since arriving with the club in a midseason trade.

Mitchell (groin) had 51 yards on 14 carries against Dallas last week.

Deebo Samuel (ankle) initially wasn’t supposed to practice on Wednesday but did end up on the field in a limited capacity and will be limited again, Shanahan said.

Defensive lineman Charles Omenihu (oblique) and cornerback Ambry Thomas (ankle) are also slated to be limited on Thursday.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, still dealing with a broken foot, won’t practice.

Steelers kept Matt Canada so Kenny Pickett wouldn’t have to “start all over again”

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The Steelers announced last week that Matt Canada would return as the team’s offensive coordinator for a third season.

Some outside the building had questioned his job security after the Steelers finished 23rd in yards and 26th in points. They had only 12 passing touchdowns and averaged only 4.2 yards per carry, below the league averages of 23 and 4.5.

But Steelers president Art Rooney II explained Thursday that the team wanted continuity for Kenny Pickett, who threw five touchdowns and only one interception after the Week 9 off week.

“They seemed to work well together,” Rooney said, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “With a new offensive coordinator, you’d start all over again. We felt there was enough there to build on.”

The Steelers went 7-2 down the stretch to finish 9-8, narrowly missing a postseason berth.

Buccaneers complete interview with Keenan McCardell

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The Buccaneers have wrapped up another offensive coordinator interview.

The team announced that they completed an interview with Vikings wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell on Thursday afternoon. McCardell was also in the mix for the Patriots offensive coordinator opening before they hired Bill O’Brien.

McCardell played two seasons for the Buccaneers and helped them win Super Bowl XXXVII after the 2002 season. He played 16 seasons in the NFL overall and moved into coaching as the wide receivers coach in Washington in 2010. He has also coached at the University of Maryland and with the Jaguars.

The Buccaneers interviewed Broncos quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak this week and they’ve requested an interview with Jaguars pass game coordinator Jim Bob Cooter as well.

Jonah Williams, Alex Cappa remain out of practice for Bengals

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers
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Everything remains status quo when it comes to the injuries along Cincinnati’s offensive line.

According to multiple reporters on the scene, right guard Alex Cappa and left tackle Jonah Williams are not practicing on Thursday.

Cappa is dealing with an ankle injury, though multiple reporters noted he was not in a walking boot at the day’s session.

Williams suffered a dislocated kneecap in the wild-card round and has not practiced since.

With both players out for Thursday’s practice, the Bengals are likely to be without three of their five starting linemen for most of the season in the AFC Championship Game. Right tackle La'el Collins was lost for the rest of the season in December when he suffered a torn ACL.

Cincinnati will release its full practice report later on Thursday.

Patrick Mahomes says he’s gone to Tom Brady for advice this week

Kansas City Chiefs v Tampa Bay Buccaneers
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Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes revealed that he has been talking to Tom Brady this week for advice about getting ready for the AFC Championship Game.

“I talked to Tom a little bit, I have a good relationship with him now and he gives me a lot of advice,” Mahomes said. “Why would you not want to learn from the GOAT? Any time anybody like that wants to give me advice I’ll take it in. It’s cool to see the guys you’ve watched growing up, your whole life, be able to talk to you.”

In Mahomes’ first AFC Championship Game, after the 2018 season, he lost to Brady and the Patriots. Two years later, in the Super Bowl, he lost to Brady and the Buccaneers.

Those two losses gave Mahomes a first-hand account of how prepared Brady is for the biggest games. And so Brady’s brain is one he wants to pick with the AFC Championship Game coming up on Sunday.

Panthers hire Frank Reich as head coach

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The Carolina Panthers have their new head coach: Frank Reich.

Reich, who was fired last season as head coach of the Colts, has been hired as the new head coach of the Panthers.

The 61-year-old Reich went 40-33-1 in four and a half seasons as head coach of the Colts. He made the playoffs twice. He has previously been an offensive coordinator of both the Eagles and Chargers, and an assistant with the Cardinals and Colts before that. He had a 14-year playing career as an NFL quarterback, mostly as a backup.

Now he takes a Panthers team coming off a 7-10 season, and a team that needs to find its franchise quarterback. Whether that means taking a quarterback with the No. 9 pick in the 2023 NFL draft or bringing in a veteran remains to be seen, but Reich has been hired largely because of his experience with the quarterback position, and in the hopes that he’ll groom the next franchise quarterback in Carolina.

Jason Kelce: I’ve learned now that I don’t know when the last game is going to come

NFC Divisional Playoffs - New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles
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Eagles center Jason Kelce has contemplated retirement over the last few years. But each time, he’s elected to come back and give it another go.

With Sunday’s NFC Championship Game guaranteed to be Philadelphia’s last home contest of the season, Kelce was asked on Thursday if he’ll soak in the environment more in case this is his last time playing at Lincoln Financial Field.

“You know I think, it was maybe three years ago — I think that might’ve been Doug’s last year — it was on my mind quite a bit,” Kelce said in his press conference. “So, I’ve learned now that I don’t know when that last game is going to come. Maybe I think about it a little bit less. There’s always a chance that’s going to be the situation.

“But, you just try to think about the game and focus on taking in the moment and being 100 percent there. It’s hard enough doing it that way. It’s going to be a lot harder if you’re not focused.”

Kelce has been a mainstay of Philadelphia’s offensive line dating back to when Andy Reid was head coach in 2011. He’s started 176 games for the franchise, winning Super Bowl LII in 2017 and delivering an epic championship rally speech in the process.

If Philadelphia and Kansas City win this weekend, Kelce would take on his brother, Travis, in Super Bowl LVII.

Nick Sirianni: Avonte Maddox getting better every day

NFL: OCT 30 Steelers at Eagles
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Before Wednesday’s practice, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said he was hopeful that wide receiver A.J. Brown and cornerback Avonte Maddox will be able to play this week.

It looks like Brown is on track because he wasn’t on the injury report at all on Wednesday. Maddox was limited by the toe injury that kept him out the last three games and Sirianni said on Thursday that the team is encouraged by the direction things are going for Maddox this week.

“We feel like he’s on a trajectory up. Getting better every day. We’re hopeful, and we’ll see,” Sirianni said, via Josh Tolentino of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Thursday’s practice is set to be the most active of the week for the Eagles and Maddox’s ability to hold up to that workload will provide the team with a better idea about his outlook.

Jets “committed to finding a veteran” quarterback, but haven’t gotten into names

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The Jets answered one big offseason question mark by hiring Nathaniel Hackett as their offensive coordinator on Thursday and it didn’t take long to pivot from filling that hole to talking about the other big offensive question.

Had the Jets gotten better quarterback play during the regular season, they would have had a strong chance of making the playoffs and may have avoided the need to make any changes to the offensive coaching staff. In a Thursday press conference, head coach Robert Saleh said that the team wants to continue working with Zach Wilson but acknowledged that bringing in a more experienced option is something that was a focal point of conversations with Hackett and other candidates.

“The quarterback position was the No. 1 concern,” Saleh said, via SNY. “Rightfully so. And it was simple. We’re committed to finding a veteran, we didn’t get into names.”

While Saleh didn’t get into names, others have connected the dots between Hackett’s time in Green Bay and a possible Jets run at trading for Aaron Rodgers. Saleh downplayed that idea by saying “everyone’s got a connection with everybody in this league,” but it figures to remain a topic around the team until it becomes clear that other plans are in place for the quarterback.