DeMarcus Lawrence never fretted about playing the 2018 season under the franchise tag. The Dallas Cowboys pass rusher simply went out and doubled-down on his inspiring surge to the forefront of NFL quarterback disruptors.
Lawrence’s first three seasons were a mixed bag, then he busted out in 2017, compiling 14.5 sacks and 58 tackles. The question Dallas needed to answer in 2018 was whether the defensive end was the mostly disappointing player from his first three years or the potential game-wrecker he displayed in one season?
The 26-year-old proved to the Cowboys he could be a consistent force. Despite being chipped and doubled more than previous seasons, Lawrence still compiled 10.5 sacks and 64 tackles. His ascension, from teetering on disappointment while dealing with injuries to consistent force, have proven to Dallas they can trust giving the pass rusher a big contract.
“I wouldn’t say we were a long ways apart; we were apart,” Cowboys EVP Stephen Jones said of last year’s negotiations, via the Dallas Morning News. “Certainly DeMarcus has done his part to make us feel more comfortable. He put together now two back-to-back, double-digit sack seasons. Of course he’s a leader by example. …Nothing’s changed in terms of my opinion, except for the better.”
The question is whether the Cowboys will hand Lawrence a massive offer before the deadline to franchise tag players comes due. If Dallas can’t agree on a price for the pass rusher, expect another tag to be used to extend the timeline to get a deal done this offseason, especially given that other Cowboys stars like Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper are all also seeking new contracts.
The Cincinnati Bengals don’t yet officially have a head coach, but they apparently have an offensive coordinator.
Raiders quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan is leaving the team to join the Bengals as their offensive coordinator, Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said Tuesday during his media availability at the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.
“Here’s an announcement for you, Brian Callahan’s no longer with us,” Gruden said. “He’s gonna go with the Cincinnati Bengals, believe he’s gonna be the offensive coordinator of the Bengals. And I’m really proud of him, happy for him, happy for this opportunity. We’re short-handed right now. We’ve lost a lot of quarterback guys over the years and they’ve all gone on — a lot of them have done great things and I’m sure Brian will do the same.”
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday Callahan was a target of the Bengals for the position, as was former Raiders coach Jack Del Rio for the defensive coordinator position. Cincinnati, though, does not yet have its head coach hired.
Rams quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor is expected to take over as the Bengals head coach once the Rams’ season is complete, but the Rams have reached Super Bowl LIII, making the wait two weeks longer for Cincinnati. That doesn’t mean Taylor’s staff can’t be filled out in the meantime.
Callahan is the son of former NFL offensive coordinator and head coach Bill Callahan, for whom Taylor played when he was a quarterback at Nebraska. The elder Callahan also replaced Gruden as head coach of the Raiders after Gruden was traded to Tampa Bay before the 2002 season.
Brian Callahan brings nine years of NFL coaching experience, including two years as Matthew Stafford’s QBs coach in Detroit before moving to Oakland with Gruden. He’s also spent six years with the Denver Broncos in a variety of offensive roles.
In other Raiders news, Marshawn Lynch’s future with the team remains murky. Gruden said the team will meet with Lynch following Super Bowl LIII.
“I don’t know that yet,” Gruden said of whether Lynch will return to the Raiders. “I think, when we get back after the Super Bowl, we’ll have a lot better indication on his health and his desire, on what he wants to do. I’m sure if he wants to play, somebody like me would love to have him back.”
Lynch came out of retirement to play for the Raiders, who acquired his rights from the Seahawks via trade, in 2017. He was limited to six games in 2018 due to a groin injury that landed him on injured reserve.
Gruden was similarly unsure about the future of tight end Jared Cook, who had a career year at 31 years old (in part because there weren’t many other pass-catching options on Oakland’s roster), saying he knew there would be a competitive market for Cook.
BALTIMORE, MD – OCTOBER 21: Wide Receiver Michael Thomas #13 of the New Orleans Saints celebrates after catching a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on October 21, 2018 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
New Orleans Saints’ wide receiver Michael Thomas has sent a strong message to the NFL in the wake of his team’s heartbreaking NFC Championship Game loss.
The Saints fell to the Los Angeles Rams in overtime on Sunday night, but it’s a missed call in the fourth quarter that has New Orleans upset.
A blatant pass interference penalty on a key third-down attempt went uncalled, forcing the Saints to settle for a field goal, which allowed Los Angeles to tie the game up late.
Thomas has taken to social media to remind the NFL of a rule that could have saved the Saints:
#Saints WR Michael Thomas to the league pic.twitter.com/ZYyD9If9Dp
— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) January 21, 2019
It’s a real rule.
From the NFL’s rulebook:
The Commissioner’s powers under this Section 2 include the imposition of monetary fines and draft-choice forfeitures, suspension of persons involved in unfair acts, and, if appropriate, the reversal of a game’s result or the rescheduling of a game, either from the beginning or from the point at which the extraordinary act occurred.
The rule exists in the NFL’s “extraordinarily unfair acts” section.
Of course, Roger Goodell probably isn’t going to do anything with this, but it’s interesting to find out that something could actually be done.
Above all else, NFL replay is designed to save the league from itself. Its goal is to correct clear and obvious mistakes.
But when a clear and obvious mistake occurred late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints, there was nothing the replay system could do.
Referee Bill Vinovich’s crew missed an obvious pass interference call on Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, a painful reminder that such calls are not reviewable under current NFL rules. That must change, and there is a chance it will happen this offseason. Remember, most NFL rule modifications are usually reactions to massive controversies.
“We go into these league meetings and we sit as an ownership group and we don’t further evaluate the replay system,” Saints coach Sean Payton said after the game. “We’ve got plenty of technology to speed things up. Look, I’m on the competition committee, so hopefully that provides a voice. But, man, I hope no other team has to lose a game the way we lost that one today.”
Drew Brees throws to Tommylee Lewis and Nickell Robey-Coleman appears to hit him early, but no pass interference is called.
Owners have long been reluctant to expand replay to include penalties and especially judgment calls such as pass interference. Their goal always has been to limit replay to objective decisions. Was a player down by contact? Did he land in bounds? Was he over the goal line? And to this point, owners have wanted subjective calls to remain an on-field, real-time judgment without the help of technology.
In most cases, that’s understandable. Pass interference is in essence a judgment of whether a defender materially prevented a receiver from catching the ball in an illegal way. An official must judge whether contact was forcible or incidental. Was it initiated by the defender or was it a collision? Judgment from a replay official would be no less subjective and, in most cases, would force the play to be re-officiated in the booth.
But officials are human, which means sometimes they are just going to make mistakes that can be seen by everyone but them. Longtime NFL coach Mike Holmgren, a former member of the competition committee, famously favored replay because it could correct mistakes that 50 fans in a bar could easily identify.
That’s the argument for adding pass interference to replay. Although it would be a significant step, allowing replay to determine whether the call was justified, or if an obvious foul was missed, would not bring down the republic. How do we know that? The Canadian Football League has allowed pass interference to be reviewed since 2014. Last time I checked, the league was still in business. In fact, it imposed pass interference after a no-call late in the 2015 Grey Cup, ensuring a credible outcome.
The CFL has adjusted the rule a few times based on experience. In 2018, coaches have only one challenge at their disposal. They challenged 42 defensive pass interference calls, and of that total, 20 were overturned.
That’s hardly a massive disruption to the game, another concern expressed whenever the subject of replay expansion occurs. There would be no reason to add additional challenges to an NFL coach’s allotment — two initially, with a third added if he wins the first two — and reviews that occur during the final two minutes of the half are generally quick.
Nickell Robey-Coleman says “thank you” to the referees for not calling pass interference on a pass to Tommylee Lewis late in the fourth quarter.
The bottom line is that the NFL has the technology, capacity and now the urgent incentive to add pass interference to replay. The point would not be to re-judge close calls in slow motion. It would be to avoid precisely the debacle the NFL encountered Sunday.
Put simply, this no-call almost certainly determined which team would represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Careers and legacies were impacted.
Sunday already was a bit of a perfect storm. Vinovich’s regular-season crew threw the fewest flags per game (13.1) in the NFL, and generally speaking, postseason crews tend to allow much more physical play in the defensive backfield. Chances are that this type of situation wouldn’t arise as much as traditionalists might fear.
But there has to be a safety net for use in emergencies to maintain credibility and faith in the outcome of NFL games. The infrastructure already exists. Now the NFL must find the will. If Sunday’s debacle won’t spur it, what would?
Colts defensive lineman Denico Autry has been fined $13,369 for unsportsmanlike conduct during last week’s playoff loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported.
Autry celebrated a fourth-down takedown of Patrick Mahomes with two pelvic thrusts, directed toward an official no less. The sack dance came with Indianapolis trailing 24-7 midway through the third quarter. Autry, like McCringleberry before him, apparently just couldn’t help himself.
Here are other costly infractions from Divisional Round action:
1. Rams cornerback Marcus Peters was fined $10,026 for unnecessary roughness against Cowboys wide receiver Amari Cooper during L.A.’s win, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported
2. Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers was fined $20,054 for roughing Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers in New England’s 41-28 win, Pelissero reported.
Since Hue Jackson isn’t returning to Cincinnati, it’s time for the coach to find a new destination — which might be across the country from where he’s spent the last three seasons.
Jackson interviewed for the vacant offensive coordinator job under new Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury on Friday, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.
Before he was a head coach in Oakland and Cleveland (combined record: 11-44-1), Jackson rose through the ranks as an offensive assistant and coordinator. He spent time in Washington, Cincinnati and Atlanta, as well as at California and USC as offensive coordinator. His work with former Bengals backup quarterback AJ McCarron sent him rocketing up the coaching candidate charts for a second time, which landed him in Cleveland in a hire that was deemed as a home run.
It didn’t quite work out that way.
Jackson’s potential pairing with Kingsbury would be intriguing, though. Kingsbury ascended out of nowhere to take the Cardinals job, just a month and a half after he was fired by his alma mater, Texas Tech. He’s never been an NFL coach in any capacity. But he was hired because of his offensive mind, which seems to be the new wave among those making coaching decisions in the NFL.
Kingsbury will call plays (that’s why he was hired), taking that job out of a potential offensive coordinator’s hands. Jackson did not excel in that department in Cleveland, but brings three and a half seasons of NFL head coaching experience, which was filled with both pressure and struggles. He could be a valuable source of advice and guidance for the rookie Kingsbury.
Plus, they were technically both former USC offensive coordinators, even if Kingsbury never actually called a play for the Trojans.
Should Jackson get the job, it would make for an interesting meeting between the Browns and Cardinals, who are set to face off in 2019. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield played for Kingsbury as a freshman at Texas Tech, but when Kingsbury didn’t offer him a scholarship after his first season, Mayfield transferred to Oklahoma where he eventually won the Heisman Trophy. Mayfield also spent half of his rookie season in the NFL playing for Jackson, who was fired after eight games, and for whom Mayfield has very little love.
We’re getting ahead of ourselves here, but talk about a game that wouldn’t require any extra motivation.