Ten-Point Stance: Mike Freeman's NFL Notebook Heading into Wild-Card Playoffs

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 1, 2014

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1. Should Mr. Smith go to Washington?

First, let's get this out of the way. There is a feeling among the agents for a number of the NFL coaching candidates that the candidates are very nervous about coaching in Washington. 

They know about Dan Snyder's reported meddling and that Robert Griffin III became closer to the owner than the head coach. They wonder if that knee will ever totally heal. That organization makes some of the candidates damn skittish. 

"A situation where a lot of money is almost guaranteed to come with a lot of headaches," said one agent.

Another agent said coaches in the running for head coaching jobs have the most questions about two organizations: Washington and Cleveland.

Oct 13, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington situation is a mess, but there's a perfect candidate to fix it: Lovie Smith.

I know I've said before that Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin would be a perfect fit, but that was because I thought there would be no way in hell Smith wouldn't have been hired by now. The fact that he wasn't snapped up by the Texans is criminal.

Here's why Smith is perfect for Washington:

First: He's calm. Mike Shanahan was a egotistical hot-head. Smith is so calm he's boring and that's a good thing for a franchise that needs boring. That's a good thing in the NFL. It usually means you're winning.

Second: He's a winner. Smith won 84 of 150 games in Chicago. His Bears teams in nine years made the playoffs three times, going to the conference title game twice and a Super Bowl.

Third: He can transform Robert Griffith III back into a great pass thrower. I'm not as convinced as some that Smith would bring former Cal coach Jeff Tedford with him to the NFL, as NFL Media's Ian Rapaport reported. I'm hearing Smith isn't as connected to Tedford as some may believe. But if Smith did hire him, Tedford would be good for Griffin despite a shaky last few years at Cal.

Remember, Tedford developed Aaron Rodgers. Yes, that Aaron Rodgers.

Mostly, Smith would bring professionalism to an organization that seriously needs an injection of it.

2. Insane final day

Dec 29, 2013; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan walks off the field after a game against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. The Giants defeated the Redskins 20-6. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

If you want to understand more on why some potential coaching candidates are nervous about Washington, please read this from the Post. It doesn't get odder than that.

I'll say this: The Dallas Cowboys may be dysfunctional, but at least owner Jerry Jones is accountable. Maybe too accountable. Maybe too present, but he's present. Browns ownership sat there and answered every insulting question from the media (many of those questions deserved) after that team fired its head coach.

Where was Snyder? Nowhere. Griffin wasn't very much accountable either. It's a mess there. 

3. Angry Browns players

To say that Browns players were shocked at the firing of Rob Chudzinski is an understatement. That is well-documented. But I thought this quote from a former Browns player who still speaks frequently to players there was poignant. He said that Browns players, speaking on the firing and status of the Browns as a laughingstock, were "almost embarrassed. Tired of being laughed at."

Tired of being laughed at.

4. The best opening in the NFL

When you poll team executives around the sport, they all point to one opening they believe is the best job—and it's not even close, they say.

It's the Detroit Lions.

Said one general manager: "A top-five offense. Potentially a top-five defense. I really think they're a few pieces away from a title. Just need a disciplinarian."

In other words, get someone who can make the players listen to him, something fired coach Jim Schwartz had a difficult time doing. Clean up the mistakes on and off the field. Get Matt Stafford to work on his mechanics and decision-making, and yes, this team could be scary.

The other choice among the executives was Cleveland. Tons of good draft picks and a decent defense. The fear there was that the Browns don't know what the hell they're doing.

The executives I spoke to said Tampa was the worst job opening. Can't disagree.

5. The out

Several NFL team executives say that while Sumlin's contract seems pretty airtight, it isn't. They say he can get out of it rather easily if he wants to go to the pros. The financial penalty of getting out of that deal can be avoided or reduced.

"If he wants to go to the NFL," said one executive familiar with Sumlin's contract, "he can fairly easily."

Sumlin will also listen to NFL teams, I'm told, and he may already be doing that. Sumlin isn't calling. Team officials are reaching out to him. I also heard that he's listening, but that's it for the moment. We'll see what happens.

6. Rex Ryan, coach of the year?

This from an AFC North assistant coach on the Jets' Rex Ryan: "One of the best pure coaching jobs I've seen in the past four or five years. I don't know if people understand how that team has almost no talent on offense. The quarterback (Geno Smith) has potential but now he's not any good. The d-line is good but everything else on that defense can't be trusted. I think that team is a three- or four-win team. Rex got eight out of that sh-- group."

7. Votes of confidence

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 27: Head coach Leslie Frazier of the Minnesota Vikings congratulates Christian Ponder #7 after a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers by Adrian Peterson #28 (not pictured) during the second quarter of the game on October 27, 2
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Last thing on coaches. The following quote from Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was not lost on some NFL assistants. It was total BS and an example of why coaches and media never trust votes of confidence.

''Leslie Frazier is not going anywhere,'' Spielman said in November. ''I am telling you that we are very committed to Leslie Frazier and this coaching staff. And we're committed to our players, and everybody is working extremely hard to get this thing turned around.''

Spielman was so committed that he fired Frazier.

You can say that circumstances changed, but what changed exactly? The Vikings were terrible in November and anyone with a modicum of football acumen knew they were going to stink in December as well because of the quarterback situation. That's not Frazier's fault.

Coaches hate votes of confidence because almost always they are worthless and, worse, they are usually lies. They are stated to give the appearance of calm. Whenever a coach hears one, he looks over his back for the axe.

Nov 30, 2013; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators former player Tim Tebow (15) watches from the sidelines during the first quarter against the Florida State Seminoles at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

8. Tim Tebow

He recently signed on to be a college football analyst for ESPN. The reaction to this from people in football was interesting. There was actually genuine happiness for Tebow. Many scouts in football I've spoken to about him actually think he's good for the sport. This is a phenomenon I find interesting because he's actually done very little in the NFL. But I digress.

What's interesting is that not only did Tebow not get signed by a team, but the prevailing notion is that over the past six months (and perhaps much longer) not a single team inquired about him to play quarterback. And while he said in a conference call that he still has hopes of playing in the NFL, it simply won't happen, unless a virus specifically designed to give only quarterbacks the flu strikes. In many ways, Tebow's move to television officially signals the end of his football career.

9.  Thief

American ingenuity at its best.

How exactly does one steal a seat and walk out unnoticed by security? And what do you do with that seat? Brag about it to friends? Put it on eBay? Watch the Vikings lose while sitting in it?

10. If your team isn't in the playoffs, whom do you root for?

This is a question that is always asked by fans. My team is done. Which one do I root for?

This flowchart answers that question beautifully. Enjoy and Happy New Year.


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