The coaching carousel has already begun to spin, with former Patriots offensive coordinator and Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien headed to the Houston Texans. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have already hired former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith.
On Saturday, the Cleveland Browns will interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for their vacant head coaching job, according to ESPN. Will he take it?
We get to that and more -- including the Patriots' on-again off-again relationship with Austin Collie, the trade-ability (if that's a word) of running back Stevan Ridley, and a few other questions around the AFC East -- in this week's mailbag.
Matt, it's no sure thing that he'd leave. How could he feel safe knowing that the Browns just fired Rob Chudzinski after one season? The two are represented by Creative Artists Agency (CAA), so it wouldn't be a surprise if he were advised against taking the job.
McDaniels was considered a candidate for the job in 2013, before the Browns hired Chudzinski. He was not interested at the time, and said, "I'm happy here. My family is happy here." It seemed like he would want to stay in New England with his family, but he's at least open to the idea now. He grew up in Barberton, Ohio, and his wife is also from Ohio according to Albert Breer of NFL Network.
That being said, while it may not seem like it on the surface, I bet the Cleveland job would be attractive to McDaniels, at least on some levels.
The defense is already loaded with talent. There are several holes on offense -- including quarterback, running back and several spots on the offensive line -- but the Browns have two first-round picks, including the fourth overall pick, and could address some of those needs in short order. Plus, the Browns have one of the best young receivers in the league in Josh Gordon.
One of the problems McDaniels encountered in his stint as head coach of the Denver Broncos was in his personnel decisions, but he wouldn't have to carry the full weight of that burden in Cleveland; he would be joining another former Bill Belichick buddy, general manager Michael Lombardi.
McDaniels may prefer to go somewhere with a talented quarterback already in place, but those positions don't become available easily, and this may be the best and most sensible offer that will be available to him in some time. Still, I think he stays.
@ErikFrenz With the success of Blount does it make Ridley possible trade bait?— Kevin (@KevinGust) January 2, 2014
Kevin, the Patriots know the value of a deep stable of talented running backs, and LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley both bring different things to the table. Injuries have the potential to put a big dent in the Patriots depth at the position, as we saw with Shane Vereen's injury in Week 1.
The Patriots haven't completely given up on Ridley, as he continues to get opportunities in various scenarios, even being asked to carry the ball in the fourth quarter as the Patriots tried to milk the clock for their win over the Ravens.
Hope is not lost for Ridley. The Patriots should continue to feed Blount if he remains the hot hand, but Ridley could get another chance to earn back his spot as the feature back in training camp next year.
Interesting question, but position coaches rarely win the award. Dante Scarnecchia has done a good job with the line this year. They allowed more sacks than usual, yielding 40 for the first time since 2008, but Brady was only pressured on 32.6 percent of his drop-backs. The offensive line was opening up holes in the running game, as well, and they averaged 4.4 YPA, the ninth-highest in the NFL.
They accomplished that, even while dealing with some injuries. The Patriots have been without right tackle Sebastian Vollmer since Week 8, thrusting capable backup Marcus Cannon into the starting role. Cannon went down, and Will Svitek was forced to start a couple games, as well. They were without Nate Solder for their game against the Baltimore Ravens. With Logan Mankins at left tackle and Josh Kline in the starting left guard spot, the Patriots offensive line had one of its best games of the season against a stout front seven on the road.
Personally, my hat goes off to defensive line coach Patrick Graham. He's obviously been the position coach dealt the shortest hand this year, with injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly unexpectedly thrusting backups into the mix. Rookie undrafted free-agent Joe Vellano and waiver wire pickup Chris Jones were the first ones up, and the Patriots later traded for Isaac Sopoaga and added Sealver Siliga to their group. He's also played a role in the emergence of Chandler Jones into a solid young pass-rusher. It hasn't been pretty, but Graham's work this season is the most noteworthy by a long shot.
There are three that come to mind: cornerback Aqib Talib, wide receiver Julian Edelman and linebacker Brandon Spikes.
In terms of their "irreplaceability," since I'm creating words apparently, I'd go with Talib. The Patriots haven't been able to find a solid No. 1 cornerback since Asante Samuel. The Patriots have a wealth of linebackers in Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins and the return of Jerod Mayo. If they bring back Dane Fletcher, they'll still have some depth at the position. As for Edelman, while he's been the most consistent and consistently available receiver on the roster, the Patriots have proven that the slot receiver spot is plug-and-play in their offense.
@ErikFrenz why do we keep breaking up and getting back together with Austin Collie? It's like a middle school relationship.— Alison Frenz (@AlisonFrenz) January 2, 2014
Well put, Alison. I was never in a relationship like that in middle school, though I guess for that to happen, I would have had to be in a relationship in middle school.
Anyway, the Patriots seem to have one of these "bad relationships" every year. In 2011, it was safety Ross Ventrone, who was on and off the Patriots roster with around 18 roster transactions on the season.
This year, Collie has been tabbed for a few returns as a result of some injuries at the receiver spot. When players like Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins go down with an injury, the Patriots like to have someone they can bring in that knows the playbook. That's Collie.
Ideally, the Patriots would be healthy enough at the receiver spot to where they wouldn't have to keep bringing Collie back. However, they placed Josh Boyce on injured reserve on Thursday, so they had an opening they needed to fill. There are also questions about whether Dobson will be available and/or effective in the postseason due to his nagging foot injury.
@ErikFrenz How much will Austin Collie be involved in the Pats' receiving game with Boyce & Dobson injured?— Matt Monitto (@LGelevator) January 2, 2014
Matt, it truly depends on Dobson's health. Even if Dobson is not good to go, Collie would still be staring up the depth chart at Danny Amendola, Edelman and Thompkins.
Collie hasn't made many plays this year, but he's come up in spots, specifically with two big catches on the Patriots' last-minute touchdown drive at the end of their win over the Saints. The Patriots probably wouldn't ask Collie to be one of their top targets in the passing game.
@ErikFrenz numerically, how awesome was the saints game vs broncos game?— Michael Talarski (@MikeET86) January 2, 2014
Tough question, Mike. I had to ask a few friends for help, but I came to a conclusion.
I'm going with the Broncos game on a few counts. The hype headed into the game was unparalleled, with Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning in prime time. I spent all week writing about that game, because it was all readers wanted to talk about. Then, of course, the game itself was an instant classic. Both games featured thrilling finishes, but it was much more remarkable that it even reached that point in the Broncos game. The 24-point comeback is the biggest in Patriots history.
You asked me to compare them numerically, so I'll assume you meant on a scale of 1-10; in that vain, I'll give the Broncos game a 9 and the Saints game an 8.5. They were both pretty incredible. I was truly fortunate to see so many exciting games in my first season covering the team from Gillette Stadium.
@ErikFrenz except pouncey do the fins have anyone on the o line worth keeping?— Darren (@Bannsiders) January 2, 2014
I don't think it's a stretch to say the Dolphins should be in the market for at least three new offensive linemen. Sam Brenner emerged when given the opportunity, but the Dolphins shouldn't feel comfortable with the situation. John Jerry is a below average starter, and will always be limited in what he can do. The Bryant McKinnie trade didn't work out like the Dolphins hoped. Right tackle Tyson Clabo finished out the season strong, so the Dolphins could be justified in re-signing him, but at 32 years old, they might be better off looking for a younger option.
@ErikFrenz Any insight you have into Jets FA targets at WR would be cool.— Spyder 2 Y Banana (@gambit1154) January 2, 2014
A few names come to mind. Here's a look at all the available free-agent wide receivers. Who knows which of those receivers will and won't be signed, but in terms of what the Jets need, some good targets would be Hakeem Nicks, Mario Manningham, Eric Decker and Jeremy Maclin. The Jets need a receiver with some size and speed who can play outside the numbers. The Stephen Hill experiment has been an abject disappointment through two seasons, and it may be time to seriously consider moving on from the former second-round pick.
@erikfrenz Chud to Buffalo? Close to Marrone. QB coach maybe?— Garth Blakely (@gblakely14) January 2, 2014
You know, I hadn't thought about this until just now. But now that I think about it, I really like it.
As you alluded, the Bills have sort of an opening with regards to the quarterback coach. Right now, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett carries both hats, but they might be in the market for a consultant of sorts.
As offensive coordinator of the Panthers from 2011 to 2012, Chudzinski had a hand in working with Cam Newton in his first two years in the league. Perhaps he is uniquely qualified to help the Bills get the most out of their own high draft pick, their own mobile quarterback in EJ Manuel.
The question is whether Chudzinski would even accept a job as a quarterback coach after getting a tats of being a head coach with the Cleveland Browns.
@ErikFrenz What are the worst New Years drink you've ever had?— JudeBlockedMe (@Oliverrez) January 2, 2014
I don't think it's a New Year's drink, necessarily, but the worst drink I ever had was a T-Bone, which is a shot of Jim Beam and A-1. Yeah, it was as gross as it sounds.
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