Wed Feb 20 2:09pm ET
By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
Players: Patrick Mahomes
In this Jan. 5, 2017, file photo, New York Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo talks to reporters in East Rutherford, N.J. The Kansas City Chiefs have turned to Spagnuolo to shore up their soft defense, and the former Rams and Giants head coach knows that it will be a process. But he also said Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, that there are pieces in place for a rapid turnaround. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Steve Spagnuolo spent much of his year out of coaching making the 45-minute drive from his home in Philadelphia to the headquarters of NFL Films in Mount Laurel, New Jersey.
Spagnuolo had finished a tour as the interim coach of the New York Giants and missed out on the full-time job after the season. He turned down an assistant coaching offer and decided instead to spend the season recharging his proverbial batteries while getting a different perspective on the league.
No better place to do that than the repository for all NFL game film.
''I'm glad I did it. There might have been another year I should have done it,'' said Spagnuolo, who was hired a couple weeks go to be Andy Reid's defensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs.
''I found it to be both challenging and rewarding,'' he explained Wednesday. ''The challenge was missing football, missing the camaraderie of the players and coaches. The reward was to sit back and see a big picture of the NFL and the game of football, as opposed to being in these buildings during the season with blinders on. Just a big-picture view of the league, the game of football.''
While ensconced at NFL Films headquarters, the former St. Louis Rams head coach had plenty of time to check out the Chiefs, whose Super Bowl run came up short in the AFC title game.
One of the clearest reasons? Their defense, which ranked near the bottom of the league in almost every statistical category. In fact, it was the defense that failed to stop the New England Patriots in overtime of the championship game, preventing Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the rest of their dynamic offense from even getting onto the field in the extra session.
More than anything else it was that performance that sealed the fate of longtime defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. He was fired within days of the season ending, and almost his entire staff was let go, found jobs elsewhere or, in the case of Emmitt Thomas, simply retired.
Now, it is up to Spagnuolo to turn around the Chiefs' weak spot.
''I don't really go backward. I'm not going to pass judgment,'' Spagnuolo said. ''I think the world of Bob Sutton. Bob and I have known each other a long time. A change was made - coach Reid made that decision - I'm just happy I was able to fall into what I think is a great position.''
There are certainly pieces in place for a quick turnaround. There are also some crucial decisions to be made in short order.
Top pass rusher Dee Ford is due to become a free agent, though the Chiefs are expected to place the franchise tag on him as they pursue a long-term deal. Defensive tackle Chris Jones is coming off a breakout season and is eligible to sign an extension, while the albatross contracts of safety Eric Berry and linebacker Justin Houston must be dealt with in some fashion. Perhaps they get restructured. Perhaps the two elder statesmen are released. Either way, the Chiefs could sorely use the salary cap relief to shore up other areas of the defense.
They also have the draft in April, and a first-round pick for the first time in two years, though they spent nearly all their picks on defense last season, with modest returns.
''This is a process. There are no quick fixes. There is no magic wand,'' Spagnuolo said. ''One person does not assure success, but we'll do everything to put something together.''
Spagnuolo acknowledged in an interview Wednesday the lure of the Chiefs, who are well-positioned to chase championships for years. They have one of the most stable ownerships in the NFL, a highly respected head coach in Reid, the reigning league MVP in the 23-year-old Mahomes, and plenty of high-powered talent on offense to keep pace with just about any other team.
The biggest piece missing is a defense that can get off the field when it matters most.
Like overtime of the AFC championship game.
''You won't touch a defensive coach in the NFL that wouldn't want to be on a team with, A, a really good head football coach and, B, a really good quarterback,'' Spagnuolo said. ''It goes without saying I'm really excited to be part of an organization that has an elite quarterback, and quite frankly to work with Andy Reid again, and what he's all about and what he's meant to this franchise and the league as a whole is really, really special.''
The New Orleans Saints signed long-time Minnesota Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels to an undisclosed one-year deal on Thursday, according to a source. The 31-year-old was the Vikings primary punt returner for the last eight years and averaged 12.0 yards per punt return in 2018 to finish in the league's top five for the third time in the last six seasons. He was also used occasionally as a kickoff returner and was a backup cornerback. New Orleans ranked in the league's bottom 10 teams in punt return yardage the last two years. Sherels won't be an option in most fantasy leagues with his move to the Saints.
The Baltimore Ravens re-signed backup quarterback Robert Griffin III on Thursday to an undisclosed two-year deal. The 29-year-old will continue to back up starter Lamar Jackson in 2019. The former first-round pick can be an invaluable source for Jackson as he matures heading into his second season, but RG3 will continue to have no fantasy value.
The Indianapolis Colts signed free-agent outside linebacker Justin Houston to a two-year deal worth $24 million on Thursday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Houston had nine sacks for the Chiefs last year, but he was cut with the team trying to get younger and defense while transitioning from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3 scheme. The Colts also run a 4-3, but they project to use him as a defensive end for the first time in his career. The 30-year-old has dealt with a nagging knee injury in recent years but still has 18.5 sacks in the last two years. The veteran will certainly help boost a weak Indy pass rush from a season ago.
West Virginia quarterback Will Grier had separate dinner meetings on Wednesday with the Carolina Panthers and Washington Redskins, according to NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala. Carolina hasn't drafted a quarterback since taking Cam Newton in 2011, while the Redskins are still looking for another signal-caller after trading for Case Keenum.
The Philadelphia Eagles are signing free-agent defensive lineman Vinny Curry to a one-year deal worth $2.25 million on Thursday, a source informed of the deal told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Curry has the potential to earn an extra $1.25 million in incentives. He was initially drafted in the second round by the Eagles in 2012 and had 21 tackles and 2.5 sacks in 12 games last year with Tampa Bay. The 30-year-old pass rusher should play a rotational role behind Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett.
The Atlanta Falcons and wide receiver Julio Jones are both in a good place and plan to continue negotiating with the star wideout on a contract extension. The Falcons also plan to negotiate with defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, who received the $15.2 million franchise tag. They have until July 12 to reach an extension with Jarrett, but there is no timeline on Jones' deal. Despite heading into his age-30 season, Jones remains one of the best and most productive wide receivers in the NFL. He has now gone over 1,400 receiving yards in each of the last five seasons and has 100-plus catches three of those years. Jones also found the end zone eight times in 2018 after disappointing with only three touchdowns in 2017. There are injury risks, but Jones should still be one of the first few wideouts off the board in fantasy drafts.
The New Orleans Saints are expected to sign free-agent tight end Jared Cook, sources told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Cook, who turns 32 next month, had a career year with the Raiders in 2018, catching 68 passes for 896 yards and six touchdowns. The veteran can stretch opposing defenses down the seam and should open up more space for star receiver Michael Thomas on the outside. While it would be foolish to expect Cook to put up better numbers than he did in Oakland, he should remain a strong TE1 option in the high-flying offense of the Saints.
The New York Jets agreed to terms with free-agent quarterback Trevor Siemian on a one-year, $2 million deal on Wednesday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Siemian can make up to $3 million in incentives. The 27-year-old former Bronco didn't play at all with the Vikings last year while backing up Kirk Cousins. He was the starter in Denver in 2016 and 2017, completing 59.3 percent of his passes for 30 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. New York's addition of Siemian likely means that veteran Josh McCown, a 40-year-old journeyman quarterback, will leave in free agency or retire. Siemian won't have any fantasy appeal in his new digs while backing up Sam Darnold.
Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins met with the New York Giants on Tuesday night and has meetings scheduled with the Broncos, Raiders, Dolphins and Redskins, who all have a pick in the top 15 of the first round of this year's draft. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said that Haskins checks off many of the boxes that NFL front offices look for when considering a franchise quarterback. Haskins showed his athleticism and strong arm at his pro day after producing a school-record 50 touchdowns and 4,831 passing yards in his lone season as a starter. Along with Oklahoma's Kyler Murray, Haskins is one of the top two QB prospects in this draft and he'll surely come off the board to a QB-needy team in the first round. Where he lands will help determine his future fantasy outlook.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin told Sports Radio 950 KJR in Seattle that "more surgeries (are) on the way, most likely." NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reports that Baldwin will visit with Dr. William Meyers soon to see about possibly undergoing sports hernia surgery, according to a source informed of the plan. Head coach Pete Carroll revealed during the scouting combine that Baldwin had knee and shoulder surgeries after the 2018 season ended. The 31-year-old showed his age last year while dealing with multiple injuries, catching only 50 passes for 618 yards and five touchdowns. Baldwin's fantasy stock is trending down after a poor 2018 season, and his latest injury and possible surgery won't help matters.
Arizona Cardinals pass rusher Chandler Jones, who was tied for seventh in the NFL with 13 sacks in 2018, is "very excited" to move from defensive end back to outside linebacker in defensive coordinator Vance Joseph's 3-4 defensive scheme. Jones led the NFL with 17 sacks in 2017 the last time he played outside linebacker. The two-time Pro Bowler will certainly be in play in IDP leagues once again in 2019. Jones was also up to 280 pounds heading into training camp last summer, but he is now down to around 255 pounds. With veteran Terrell Suggs in the mix, the Cardinals could be sneaky tough against opposing quarterbacks.
The New York Giants brass met with Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins on Tuesday night, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo. Head coach Pat Shurmur, offensive coordinator Mike Shula, vice president of player evaluation Chris Mara, director of college scouting Chris Pettit and assistant general manager Kevin Abrams were in attendance. The Giants have the sixth overall pick in the draft and will need an eventual replacement for Eli Manning. Haskins is a big-armed pocket quarterback, but he could probably use a year of grooming before taking over the starting job in the NFL.
Free-agent S George Iloka (Vikings) is visiting the Oakland Raiders Wednesday, March 20.
Updating previous reports, Los Angeles Rams QB Blake Bortles received a one-year, $1 million deal from the Rams, which will be subtracted from the $6.5 million the Jacksonville Jaguars owe him.
Jacksonville Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette has and will continue to work out with new University of Wyoming director of sports performance Ben Iannacchione, who spent six of the past seven seasons working in the strength and conditioning program at LSU - Fournette's alma mater. Fournette also spoke with executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin, who still has 'full confidence' in the player he selected No. 4 overall in 2017. 'With Leonard, a prepared Leonard coming into camp with a mindset that he discussed and we talked about ... I have full confidence in him. He does have some things he's got to prove when he comes back about his preparation, but he's a young, young player, he loves football, had an outstanding year, had a very disappointing year, and I think he wants to - we want him to be a great player and I think he's in the same mindset,' Coughlin said.
Fantasy Spin: Fournette was among the bigger disappointments in fantasy in 2018, twice missing an extended period of time with hamstring injuries and earning a suspension for coming off the sidelines to throw a punch in Week 12. Owners have every right to avoid him for his lack of durability, but he is also shaping up to be a value pick if he slides into the late third round area of fantasy drafts. Until further notice, he will still be the focal point of the offense. He'll also have plenty of motivation on what should be an improved offense.
The Houston Texans signed free-agent quarterback AJ McCarron to a one-year, $3 million deal on Tuesday, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter. He'll serve as the backup to Deshaun Watson in 2019. The former Alabama quarterback has played in just 12 NFL games, including seven for the Bengals in 2015 when he took over for the injured Andy Dalton. McCarron has completed 64 percent of his passes for 928 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He won't be on the fantasy radar.
Free-agent LB Aaron Lynch (Bears) is scheduled to visit the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday, March 20. Lynch has already visited with the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks this week.
The Dallas Cowboys signed free-agent wide receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year, $5 million deal on Tuesday, a source told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. He's likely to replace Cole Beasley as the team's slot receiver alongside Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cobb was a second-round pick of the Packers in 2011 and spent his first eight years in Green Bay. He had a career-high 1,287 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014, but the 28-year-old missed seven games in 2018 with hamstring and concussion issues. Cobb's fantasy stock will be way down, especially going from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to Dallas signal-caller Dak Prescott.
The Oakland Raiders signed free-agent linebacker Vontaze Burfict to a one-year deal worth roughly $5 million (including incentives) on Tuesday, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero. Burfict roamed the middle of Cincy's defense for seven years, including a 2013 Pro Bowl season after he led the league with 177 tackles. The aggressive and controversial linebacker sat out due to suspension for three straight seasons and also has been hurt by injuries. It could be a perfect fit, but Burfict's days of being IDP-relevant are likely over.
The Los Angeles Rams signed free-agent linebacker Clay Matthews to a two-year deal worth a maximum of $16.75 million, a source informed of the situation told NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. The former first-rounder will return to his hometown. Matthews had double-digit sacks in four of his first six seasons with the Packers and was an All-Pro in 2010. The 32-year-old's play has declined in recent seasons, but he'll bring veteran leadership to an already stacked Rams unit.