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.''
Chicago Bears RB Jordan Howard still has a role with the Bears, but he could still be traded nonetheless, according to head coach Matt Nagy.
Fantasy Spin: Trade talk involving Howard has waned recently, but he's seemingly not as valuable to Chicago's offense as his counterpart Tarik Cohen. It's not that Howard has necessarily under performed. He's scored 25 total times and averaged over 1,312 yards in his first three seasons. He's a solid standard RB2 assuming he stays in Chicago.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR Marqise Lee (knee) is expected to be ready late in the preseason as he continues to recover from ligament damage, according to head coach Doug Marrone.
Fantasy Spin: Lee has the ability to be the most reliable wide receiver on the Jaguars when he's at full health. That receiving corps is somewhat of a crapshoot, but Lee owns a WR3 ceiling.
Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff's potential contract extension isn't a top priority currently, according to head coach Sean McVay. 'Whether it happens this year, next year, those are things we haven't really gotten into in depth about yet,' McVay said.
Fantasy Spin: Goff had one of the worst Super Bowl performances in recent memory, but his regular season was stellar. Another season of over 4,600 yards and 30+ touchdowns should get him that extension. He's comfortably in QB1 territory heading into his fourth season.
Free-agent QB Sean Mannion (Rams) has a visit scheduled with the Minnesota Vikings later this week, according to a source.
Free-agent WR Damiere Byrd (Panthers) signed a one-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals Tuesday, March 26. Financial terms were not disclosed.
The Arizona Cardinals signed free-agent wide receiver Damiere Byrd to an undisclosed one-year deal on Tuesday. He spent the last four years with the Panthers and played in 17 games over the last three years while spending his rookie year on the practice squad. Byrd caught 12 passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns with Carolina and also worked as a kickoff and punt returner. He's mainly receiver depth for Arizona and will likely make his biggest impact on special teams.
The Buffalo Bills plan to release running back Chris Ivory after signing veteran Frank Gore this offseason, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Releasing Ivory will save the team $2.15 million against the salary cap and will cost $750,000 in dead cap money. The veteran averaged just 3.3 yards per carry on 115 attempts in 2018 and hasn't averaged more than 3.8 YPC since 2016. The 31-year-old won't have a robust market in free agency.
Free-agent TE Antonio Gates (Chargers) could still be re-signed by the Los Angeles Chargers, according to head coach Anthony Lynn.
Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said the return of veteran tight end Antonio Gates is "absolutely" a possibility for the 2019 season. Gates has very little left and would likely be third on the tight end depth chart behind Hunter Henry and Virgil Green if he returned as a free agent. He had just 28 catches for 333 yards and two touchdowns in a full season in 2018. Gates is no longer fantasy relevant if he returns for another season.
Buffalo Bills RB Chris Ivory is being released Tuesday, March 26, according to a source.
Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton (shoulder) has encouraged head coach Ron Rivera by the progress he has made in his recovery from shoulder surgery in January. 'I look forward to seeing him soon,' Rivera said, 'but just very happy that things are trending in the right direction.' The Panthers are confident that Newton will be ready for training camp.
Fantasy Spin: It was an off year for Newton as he missed two games and finished outside of QB1 territory. Assuming he does make a full recovery from the shoulder issue then it would be a surprise not to see him back among No. 1 fantasy quarterbacks in 2019.
Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford was the target of an attempted trade by the Miami Dolphins during the 2018 offseason, according to multiple league sources.
Fantasy Spin: A year later, Ryan Tannehill is gone, Ryan Fitzpatrick is in but the Dolphins are still searching for their franchise QB. Expect Miami to strike in the first round of the draft.
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said that tight end Will Dissly (knee) has been working out and is doing well in his rehab, but it won't be until training camp that he is back on the field. Dissly played in four games (eight catches, 156 yards, two touchdowns) before tearing the patellar tendon in his knee. With Nick Vannett and Ed Dickson also options at the position in 2019, there's no guarantee Dissly will develop a fantasy relevant role for Seattle coming off this injury.
Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said that the team will give tight end Darren Waller "a chance of a lifetime" in 2019 now that Jared Cook moved on in free agency. Lee Smith is currently listed atop Oakland's tight end depth chart, so Waller will be given a chance. However, the Raiders are also expected to address the position in next month's draft. Waller has 18 receptions for 178 yards and two touchdowns in his three NFL seasons and will be a very deep sleeper in fantasy if he's the team's top pass-catching tight end.
Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson isn't ruling out the return of running back Darren Sproles, who has yet to make a decision on whether he will retire. Sproles is ready to retire, but he's played in nine games the last two seasons and wants to go out on a good note. He ran the ball 29 times for 120 yards and a score while adding 15 receptions for 160 yards and two more touchdowns in his six regular season games in 2018. Even if Sproles returns, his fantasy upside is all but diminished at this point in his career.
Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said that wide receiver Doug Baldwin will undergo sports hernia surgery on April 4. There is no real timetable for when Baldwin will be healthy heading into next season. The 30-year-old receiver dealt with multiple injuries in a disappointing 2018 season and is no lock to be ready for Week 1 at this point. He caught only 50 passes for 618 yards and five touchdowns in 13 games last year. It's safe to say his fantasy value is dropping quickly.
The Chicago Bears could explore trade offers for running back Jordan Howard this offseason, according to head coach Matt Nagy. Despite scoring nine touchdowns in back-to-back seasons, Howard saw a career-low 250 rushing attempts for 935 yards in his third season in Chicago and first under Nagy. The 2016 fifth-round pick isn't as good of a fit in Nagy's offense and has become more touchdown-dependent for fantasy owners with the Bears. A trade could boost his fantasy stock back up.
The Baltimore Ravens didn't address their wide receiver position in free agency, meaning Willie Snead and Chris Moore, who combined for two touchdowns last year, are currently at the top of the receiver depth chart. Jordan Lasley (inactive all year), Jaleel Scott (coming off Injured Reserve) and Quincy Adeboyejo (coming off IR) round out the group. General manager Eric DeCosta is preaching patience and also expects the team to address the position through the draft. It also speaks to the direction Baltimore is going now that Lamar Jackson is their franchise quarterback. Ravens receivers combined for an NFL-low 45 catches for 520 yards and three touchdowns after Jackson took over for Joe Flacco in Week 11. Mississippi's D.K. Metcalf, Ohio State's Parris Campbell, Iowa State's Hakeem Butler and Oklahoma's Marquise Brown have been linked to Baltimore at No. 22 in the first round.
Baltimore Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta all but affirmed that veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith will remain with the team in 2019. "One of the greatest strengths of our team right now is our secondary. I think it would be foolish for us to make a strength a weakness for no reason," DeCosta said. Smith is entering his age-31 season and hasn't played more than 12 games since 2015, but he brings a veteran presence to Baltimore's secondary. The Ravens also added All-Pro safety Earl Thomas in free agency.
New York Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan is still letting teams know that the No. 3 overall pick in the draft is for sale. The Jets traded up to the third pick last year from No. 6 to take Sam Darnold. Several teams could be interested in moving up to No. 3 this year in order to take a quarterback. Because of the draft-day trade to land Darnold, the Jets don't have a current second-round pick.