Kyle Shanahan: Trent Williams in motion is scary to watch, I can’t believe it’s legal

NFL: JAN 16 NFC Wild Card - 49ers at Cowboys
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When the 49ers added a new wrinkle to their offense by putting offensive tackle Trent Williams in motion, coach Kyle Shanahan believed he had stumbled upon something that would instill fear into opposing defenses.

“He’s probably the best guy you could imagine ever doing it. I can’t believe it’s legal. It’s scary even for me to even watch,” Shanahan said of Williams in motion. “I thought it was one of the cooler plays I’ve seen, just because of who was on it.”

Shanahan said there’s nothing unique about the play itself, it’s just that it’s highly unusual to have the 6-foot-5, 320-pound Williams in motion. Shanahan said the motion was something the 49ers previously had fullback Kyle Juszcyk run, then they decided to try other players in that position and finally gave Williams a chance to do it after he had mentioned he’d love an opportunity to line up in the offensive backfield.

“We just look at it as the same play we’ve been doing for 10 years, and just, what’s one more thing we can add to it,” Shanahan said. “It used to only be Juice, then we added the tight ends, then we added running backs, then we added receivers. Trent mentioned it to me a long time ago, kind of halfway joking.”

There’s no joking about it now, it’s a formation that has become a staple of the 49ers’ offense.

Jeff Fisher will coach the USFL’s Michigan Panthers

Los Angeles Rams v New England Patriots
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Jeff Fisher is heading back to the sidelines.

The USFL announced on Thursday that Fisher will be the coach of the Michigan Panthers when the league opens business this spring. They also announced that Larry Fedora will coach the New Orleans Breakers.

Fisher spent 17 seasons as the head coach of the Oilers/Titans before moving on to the Rams. He was fired in 2016 during his fifth season with the Rams and went 173-165-1 during his time in the NFL.

Fedora was the head coach of Southern Miss from 2008-2011 and North Carolina from 2012-2018. He was 34-19 in his first stop and 45-43 in his second.

And, because we’re sure you’re asking, the USFL season will not be 16 games long so Fisher has no risk of getting back on that 7-9 bullshit.

PFT’s 2022 AFC and NFC championship game picks

NFL: JAN 09 49ers at Rams
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Last weekend was great. Except when it comes to picking games. MDS and I were a combined 1-7. Which is only slightly better than pointing out that I was 0-4.

For the year, I’m now 181-100-1. MDS is 178-103-1.

Here are our picks for the conference championship round. We agree on the winners, but not on the spreads.

Bengals (+7) at Chiefs

MDS’s take: These teams met four weeks ago in one of the best games of the regular season, a 34-31 Bengals win in Cincinnati. On that day Joe Burrow looked like the better quarterback, putting up 446 yards and four touchdowns to Patrick Mahomes‘ 259 yards and two touchdowns. I expect Burrow to have another big game on Sunday, but I think Mahomes will match him drive for drive, and this time I like the Chiefs to be the ones to pull out the win in the last minute.

MDS’s pick: Chiefs 38, Bengals 34.

Florio’s take: The Bengals are the future. The Chiefs are the present. Drop any team into Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, and Kansas City wins. ’72 Dolphins, ’85 Bears. Any of them. And look for the Bengals to go down swinging; the last thing they’ll want to do is to change who they are. Because who they are could get them to the Super Bowl, as soon as next year.

Florio’s pick: Chiefs 41, Bengals 24.


49ers (+3.5) at Rams

MDS’s take: The 49ers had the Rams’ number this season, blowing them out in Week 10 and punching their ticket to the playoffs with an overtime thriller in Week 18. But I expect the Rams’ defense to play well against a 49ers offense that escaped Green Bay with a win despite playing poorly. And I expect Matthew Stafford to spread the ball around well, and for Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham both to top 100 yards. This Rams team looks destined for the Super Bowl.

MDS’s pick: Rams 28, 49ers 24.

Florio’s take: Great teams are made up of great players who are playing great. The Rams have great players who, until recently, hadn’t been playing great. They currently are. It will be more than the 49ers can handle, but not by much.

Florio’s pick: Rams 24, 49ers 21.

Sean Payton: Two teams have reached out, but I’m not looking at that path

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When Sean Payton announced that he was stepping down as the Saints’ head coach earlier this week, he said he did not plan on coaching during the 2022 season.

During a Thursday appearance on The Dan Patrick Show, Payton said that his comments didn’t stop some teams from working to find out how committed he was to that plan. He said that two teams have reached out through back channels to see if he would be interested in coming to coach for them, but he reiterated that he’s not looking to coach and said he’s interested in calls he’s gotten about moving into broadcasting.

“I’m not looking at that path right now,” Payton said, via Luke Johnson of NOLA.com. “I don’t think i’m finished coaching. But I was excited to get two or three calls from people in the television industry.”

The Cowboys have been linked with Payton, including the 2019 run at him that Mike Florio revealed this week, but Payton didn’t name the teams that made the backchannel requests.

Payton is still under contract to the Saints, so any inquiries from another team would have to go through them or they would constitute tampering under NFL rules. It doesn’t appear anyone has gone that route and that makes it all the likelier that Payton’s contributions to the coming NFL season will be as an analyst.

Report: Adrian Wilson in, Trent Baalke out as Jaguars G.M.

Jacksonville Jaguars Training Camp
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Well, this is interesting.

Long-time Cardinals reporter Mike Jurecki reports that Cardinals executive Adrian Wilson will become the next General Manager of the Jaguars. This necessarily means that current G.M. Trent Baalke won’t be.

Jurecki adds that Byron Leftwich will become the head coach of the Jaguars.

A league source tells PFT that Leftwich basically gave the Jaguars an ultimatum: It’s me or Trent.

It’s a stunning move, but it underscores the concerns many had about owner Shad Khan’s decision to keep Baalke around. As one league source explains it to PFT, multiple candidates refused to even interview for the Jacksonville job if Baalke was going to remain in place as the General Manager.

If this ultimately happens, it at least shows that Khan has the flexibility to admit a mistake and pivot away from it. Still, the far better approach is to not make mistakes.

Dysfunctional teams indeed do dysfunctional things. Whether recognizing that a dysfunctional thing was done and undoing it constitutes proof that the broader dysfunction is disappearing remains to be seen.

Jaguars interviewed Vic Fangio for head coach

NFL: DEC 19 Bengals at Broncos
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The Jaguars have added a surprise candidate to their head coaching search.

According to multiple reports, Jacksonville sent a private plane to Denver to pick up former Broncos head coach Vic Fangio for an interview this week.

Fangio spent the last three years as the Broncos’ head coach, compiling a 19-30 record. Fangio never had a winning record with the Broncos. The closest he came was going 7-9 in his first season. The Broncos went 5-11 in 2020 and 7-10 in 2021.

Fangio and Jaguars General Manager Trent Baalke spent 2011-2016 together with San Francisco. Fangio was the team’s defensive coordinator under head coach Jim Harbaugh.

On Wednesday, it was reported that the Jaguars were trying to finalize a deal with Buccaneers offensive coordinator — and former Jacksonville first-round pick — Byron Leftwich. But now it appears the team’s coaching search is still wide open.

Bears to hire Matt Eberflus as their next head coach

NFL: AUG 02 Indianapolis Colts Training Camp
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The Bears have found their next head coach.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the team will hire Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. He was joined as a finalist in the search process by former Lions and Colts head coach Jim Caldwell and Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.

The news comes a couple of days after the Bears hired Ryan Poles as their new General Manager.

Eberflus also had a pair of interviews with the Jaguars, who appear set to make Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich their next head coach.

The Chicago job will be Eberflus’ first head coaching position. He was hired as the Colts’ defensive coordinator in 2018 when it appeared Josh McDaniels would be their head coach and remained on the staff under Frank Reich when McDaniels reneged on an agreement. The Colts made the playoffs twice with Eberflus running the defense and finished in the top 10 in points allowed in three of his four seasons.

Defense has generally been the stronger side of the ball in Chicago in recent years, so Eberflus’ offensive coordinator choice is sure to draw a lot of interest as that coach will be charged with helping to develop 2021 first-round quarterback Justin Fields in hopes of building the kind of offense that can push the team beyond the performance they attained under Eberflus’ predecessor Matt Nagy.

Ben Roethlisberger announces his retirement

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers
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Ben Roethlisberger has retired.

Roethlisberger posted on social media today that he is retiring after an 18-year career, all with the Steelers.

“The time has come to clean out my locker, hang up my cleats, and continue to be all I can be to my wife and children,” Roethlisberger said. “I retire from football a truly grateful man.”

Roethlisberger was the 11th overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft and won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in his first season, won two Super Bowl rings, and was a six-time Pro Bowler. He will have a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Now he will head into retirement, and the Steelers will move forward on finding their next franchise quarterback.

What’s next for Aaron Rodgers?

NFC Divisional Playoffs - San Francisco 49ers v Green Bay Packers
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The hiring of Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett to serve as the new coach of the Broncos already has intensified speculation that quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be relocating from Wisconsin to Colorado. But Denver isn’t the only possibility.

So let’s look at the places we’re watching as decision-time moves closer and closer for the soon-to-be four-time MVP.

There are many reasons to think he should stay put in Green Bay. The Packers own their division. With half of the four-team field cleaning house this month, and with the Lions entering Year Two of their latest regime, the deck continues to be stacked for the Pack. Why would Rodgers want to leave?

He said on Saturday that he doesn’t want to be part of a rebuild. He surely will exercise a little leverage  (or a lot) to try to shape the roster the way he’d like it to be shaped, beginning with the retention of receiver Davante Adams. How much of that will the front office welcome?

They seem to at least be listening to him at this point. Whether they’ll heed his preferences and act on them is a different issue. G.M. Brian Gutekunst may grow weary of Rodgers using the not-so-subtle threat of leaving as a way to get what and who he wants.

As to the previously fractured Rodgers and Gutekunst relationship, Rodgers claims publicly that has improved. Privately, as we understand it, it’s still far from warm or fuzzy. Rodgers didn’t like Gutekunst before the 2021 season and — surprise, surprise — the strong-willed, grudge-clinging quarterback still doesn’t particularly care for the G.M.

Our current guess is that Rodgers will indeed invoke the verbal (i.e., not worth the paper it’s not printed on) promise by the team to trade him this year, if that’s what he wants. As we understand it, the two sides agreed to keep the contract intact for this season so that the Packers could get immediate compensation for Rodgers, not a compensatory draft pick in 2023.

Where could he go? The Broncos obviously will be one of the most logical destinations. Having Hackett there makes the transition much easier than it would be if Rodgers lands with a team where he hasn’t worked with the coach. Other teams to watch, in our reasonably informed opinion, are the Steelers, Raiders, 49ers, and maybe even the Giants. (The Saints were in play, before Sean Payton resigned. Presumably, they could re-enter the discussion depending on their coaching hire.)

As to the Giants, Wednesday’s comments from management about quarterback Daniel Jones seemingly close the door on the possibility. But if Rodgers would show interest, the Giants would be crazy to not listen and ponder. In Las Vegas, the coaching hire obviously becomes a major factor. The Pittsburgh option becomes fascinating, given that this is the kind of move the organization normally wouldn’t make. For Rodgers, maybe they make an exception.

The 49ers remain a long shot. Beyond the fact that they’ve cast their lot with Trey Lance, Gutekunst likely wouldn’t ship Rodgers to a franchise that has established a postseason mastery of the Packers in recent years. In 2008, for example, the Packers were adamant about blocking Brett Favre from joining a division rival, adding a term to the trade package that would have required the Jets to give up three first-round picks if they traded him to Chicago, Detroit, or Minnesota. (The Jets released Favre after one year, opening the door for his signing with the Vikings.)

What if the Packers renege on the unenforceable promise to trade him? Rodgers would retire, and then possibly unretire later in the year, like Favre did. One thing about the retirement possibility is very clear — if Tom Brady calls it quits this year, Rodgers will not want to inevitably be second fiddle to the GOAT when they enter Canton in the same class.

Broncos finalizing deal to hire Nathaniel Hackett as head coach

NFL: DEC 25 Browns at Packers
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The Broncos are on the verge of hiring their next head coach: Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.

Hackett and the Broncos are finalizing a deal this morning after contract talks heated up on Wednesday night, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Network.

The 42-year-old Hackett was a hot name in this year’s coaching cycle and was scheduled to have a second interview with the Jaguars today.

Hackett has spent the last three seasons as the Packers’ offensive coordinator and three seasons before that as the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator. He has also been the Bills’ offensive coordinator and the offensive coordinator at Syracuse.

The Packers have had a great offense during Hackett’s tenure with the team, but how much of that was Hackett, how much was head coach Matt LaFleur, and how much was quarterback Aaron Rodgers is an open question. The biggest question now is who the quarterback running Hackett’s offense in Denver will be.

Sean McVay: Kyle Shanahan isn’t in my head

Los Angeles Rams v San Francisco 49ers
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Sean McVay has a 55-26 regular season record as the Rams head coach, but his success has not extended to the team’s games against the 49ers.

They’re 3-7 against their NFC West rivals over his five years on the job and they carry a six-game losing streak against the Niners into Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. Kyle Shanahan, who McVay once worked under in Washington, has been the coach of the 49ers for all of those contests and that led to a question for McVay on Wednesday about whether Shanahan is in his head.

“No,” McVay said, via 49ersWebzone.com. “What I do have is respect for these guys. They’ve done a great job. You look at it, you’ve got to play well in that three-and-a-half hour window that we’re allotted. You look at the last time we played them — didn’t finish the game. But this is a really good football team. We have a lot of respect for them, but we’re competing and preparing to the best of our ability to see if we can advance. But this is a really good team. Kyle’s an excellent coach. He’s got great players, great coaches, good schemes, so that’s why they’re in the NFC Championship.”

The losses haven’t followed any particular script. The Rams gave up a 17-0 lead to the 49ers in a Week 18 loss, but they lost a one-sided affair in Week 10 and the entire run has seen them lose in a variety of ways. As long as that continues, questions about whether there’s a mental aspect to their on-field imbalance will continue to come McVay’s way.

Mike Singletary says he vetoed a trade that would have sent Ben Roethlisberger to the 49ers

49ers head coach Mike Singletary keeps an eye on things from the sidelines as the Oakland Raiders take on the San Francisco 49ers in NFL pre-season action on Saturday August 28, 2010 in Oakland, Calif.
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Former 49ers coach Mike Singletary says that he once vetoed a trade that would have sent Ben Roethlisberger from Pittsburgh to San Francisco.

Singletary told Dan Pompei of TheAthletic.com that the 49ers and Steelers had a deal that would have resulted in Roethlisberger going to San Francisco, but Singletary vetoed the deal.

According to Singletary, 49ers owners John York and Jed York and personnel executive Trent Baalke told him in 2009 that they had a deal in place with the Steelers to acquire Roethlisberger, but that Singletary declined because this was shortly after Roethlisberger had been accused in a lawsuit of sexually assaulting a woman in Lake Tahoe.

“I had been telling the team I wanted a team of character,” Singletary told Pompei. “I felt I had to be true to that. But if I could do it again, I’d do it differently.”

Whether Singletary’s description of the events is entirely accurate is questionable. For starters, he really didn’t have the authority to veto trades. He could voice his disagreement, but if the Yorks and Baalke wanted to do it, they could have done it whether Singletary liked it or not. And we haven’t heard the Steelers’ side of the story on this deal that was allegedly agreed upon.

But there were reports after Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault that the Steelers were considering trading him. And Singletary says he was the reason that what could have been one of the most significant trades in NFL history didn’t happen.

Jimmy Garoppolo hopes for a lot of “loud and proud” 49ers fans in L.A.

NFL: JAN 09 49ers at Rams
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Rams head coach Sean McVay is asking the team’s fans to resist selling their tickets to Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at SoFi Stadium because it could lead to a crowd that leans toward the 49ers rather than the home team.

That was the situation when the 49ers won in Los Angeles in Week 18 and, as you’d imagine, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo would love to see the same thing happen with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line this weekend.

“The Faithful? They travel tremendously,” Garoppolo said, via 49ersWebzone.com. “When you can get your fans behind you like that on a road game and we knew it before the game even started, there was a lot of red, you could see it, but once we started making plays and they started getting loud, it just changes the momentum of the game, I think. And you could feel it on the sideline. It’s not something that you could really put your finger on and you can’t see specifically, but you could feel, you could hear it. And our team responds well to that. So hopefully the Faithful will be out there loud and proud. And I know they’re trying.”

A snapshot of the secondary ticket market suggests there will be plenty of 49ers fans in the house, but we’ll know for sure how things break down on Sunday.

Patrick Mahomes glad Andy Reid gives players the freedom to improvise

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders
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Much has been made of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and quarterback Patrick Mahomes setting up the game-tying field goal in Sunday’s win over the Chiefs with a decision in the moment that wasn’t actually the play that had been called. Mahomes said Chiefs coach Andy Reid encourages players to do that.

“There’s a lot of that during the game,” Mahomes said. “Everybody has their input. I think that’s what makes us such a great team, a great offense, is we have communication throughout the game. Then we go out there and execute because Coach Reid gives us that freedom.”

Mahomes said the play calling isn’t always as on-the-fly as Mahomes screaming, “Do it Kelce!” at the line of scrimmage to tell Kelce to run a route he had said on the sideline he thought would be open. More often, it’s about the players looking at their tablets while the defense is on the field to see what was working and what wasn’t on the previous drive, and preparing for the next drive accordingly.

Of course, it’s easy for Reid to give the players freedom when he has players as good as Mahomes and Kelce he can count on to execute.

Joe Burrow, Tee Higgins on practice report as full participants

Cincinnati Bengals v Tennessee Titans
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Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow was off the practice report last week. He was back on it today.

But Burrow also was a full participant with his knee injury. He was a full participant during the week leading up to the wild-card victory over the Raiders. Burrow also was on the practice report with the knee issue in Weeks 2, 14 and 18.

He also was listed with throat and finger injuries this season.

Burrow, though, played every game except the meaningless Week 18 game.

Receiver Tee Higgins (thumb) showed up on the practice report, too, but he also was a full participant Wednesday.

Rookie defensive end Cam Sample (groin) was the only player who missed practice.

Defensive tackle Josh Tupou (knee) and receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. (hamstring) were limited.