1. The great Gase
Who is Adam Gase, and why does every team with an opening want to hire him?
One of the primary reasons, in two words: Jay Cutler.
Under Gase, Cutler finished the year with a career-best passer rating of 92.3 and only 11 interceptions—and he did it with an offense missing key components to injury all season. Cutler had averaged 18 interceptions per 16 games and had an 84.3 rating in his previous six seasons with the Bears. He led the league in interceptions twice, including last year, pre-Gase.
"The system is really good," Cutler told the Chicago Sun-Times' Adam Jahns. "This is the best system I've been in in my entire career. Denver was really good, a little bit different than this one. Defenses have changed. Adam's system has kind of changed and kept up with the times of what's being presented defensively and how to take advantage of those types of things."
Cutler went on to explain that Gase does what every good coordinator and play-caller does: He steals various ideas—some modern, some going back decades—and blends them all into a delicious mix.
The result? One general manager told Bleacher Report that Gase is "the new Sean Payton," another coach known for his adaptability and creativity when it comes to designing plays and systems.
I'm told he is either at the top, or near the top, of every team's list (Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is up there on lists as well). The reason is pretty easy to digest. It's a quarterback league, and if he can transform Cutler into a studious pro who doesn't make consistently dumb mistakes, what can't he do?
Remember, Gase's previous job was with the Broncos, as quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator helping Peyton Manning and Co. obliterate records.
If you want to understand the importance of someone like Gase or Jackson, look no further than some of the extremely crappy quarterback play we've seen this year. For every piece of genius we've seen from Cam Newton, Russell Wilson or Carson Palmer, there was a Matt Cassel.
What teams see in Gase (and Jackson has done this, too, with Andy Dalton and backup AJ McCarron) is a coach who can make make chicken salad out of chicken crap—make almost any quarterback better. And if that quarterback happens to be talented, Gase's system and abilities will make a great player even better.
This is why Gase has his pick of almost any job open.
2. Boomer Esiason on Aaron Rodgers
This from former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, appearing on CBS Sports Network's NFL Monday QB, is really interesting:
All three teams in that division went into Lambeau and won this year. That's the first time that that has happened since 1991. There are a lot of problems there. I do not like the way they're going into the playoffs. I think Washington will manhandle them come Sunday afternoon at FedEx Field. Part of it is Aaron Rodgers, because he openly complains. You never hear Tom Brady complain about Bill Belichick or Josh McDaniels. But in the last few weeks, it's been a lot of chirping from him. He'd be better served not saying anything and not letting it get out of the locker room. ... I don't like their mindset. I don't like their confidence. And I don't think their defense is that good."
I like Esiason (a lot), but I do find the notion that Rodgers can't air grievances interesting. First, I can't even really find anything that he's said that rises to the level of a problem. Second, players publicly complain about coaches all the time, and the world continues to spin along in orbit. Nothing implodes.
Let players complain. Who cares?
Besides, Brady has screamed at his coaches, and all turned out pretty OK.
3. Jaguars culture changing, but...
Jacksonville has the fifth pick in the draft. That is obviously good and bad. It's good because the Jaguars have an excellent pick. It's bad because the team has reached a scary level of futility. The Jaguars now have had top-five selections in five of the past six drafts.
Things are changing in Jacksonville. The team is headed in the right direction (I hope), but that is pretty insanely bad.
4. Minority coaching candidates
These are some of the names you'll hear in the coming weeks. Some are obvious, some are not. All are solid coaches:
Hue Jackson, Bengals offensive coordinator: Maybe the second-hottest coordinator to Adam Gase.
Teryl Austin, Lions defensive coordinator: Turned an awful defense into a viable one.
David Shaw, Stanford head coach: Will receive massive interest. Will probably say Hell no to the pros.
Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M head coach: See above.
Ken Norton, Raiders defensive coordinator: Well-known and respected around the sport.
Darren Perry, Packers assistant: Very quietly on many teams' interview lists.
Harold Goodwin, Cardinals offensive coordinator: Just look at that offense and its complexity.
George Edwards, Vikings defensive coordinator: A defense with not a lot of elite talent is solid.
5. What exactly did Jim Harbaugh mean by that tweet?
I can tell you that around the league, one of the things that got people talking as much as anything not Johnny Manziel-related was Jim Harbaugh's uber-subtweet:
Do not be deceived. You will reap what you sow.— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) January 4, 2016
What was Harbaugh trying to say? The assumption from many has been that he was taking a general shot at 49ers ownership and the front office.
But NFL assistants who know Harbaugh told me they believe he was targeting just one person: fired coach Jim Tomsula. They say Harbaugh viewed Tomsula as disloyal, and that is the core of the tweet.
It's like high school all over again.
6. Get him in the Hall
The Hall of Fame announced its semifinalists in late November. The list is pretty strong, but one name that deserves special consideration is Jimmy Johnson.
Johnson was not only an excellent tactician but also one of the best motivators in coaching history. He was able to keep a lot of the egos on that Cowboys team in check (and there were a lot).
Not to mention, the trio of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin are all in the Hall—same as the Bills' great trio of Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed are all in the Hall, as is their coach, Marv Levy.
7. One of the best NFL podcasts out there
It's rare for a current player to speak bluntly and honestly about the NFL, but that's what Giants offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz does in his podcast. It's an outstanding listen. My guess is it will catch on in a big way.
8. Cam Newton, the MVP
Of all the impressive statistics engineered by Cam Newton, the lock to be named MVP, this might be the most impressive. Against the Buccaneers, Newton passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more. The NFL says that was the 31st time Newton has thrown a TD and run for one in the same game, tying him with Hall of Famer Steve Young.
Young played in 169 games. Last week was Newton's 78th.
9. The incredible Jimmy Haslam
And by incredible, I mean unbelievably awful. From MMQB's Peter King:
Fun facts about Jimmy Haslam's 39-month tenure as owner of the Cleveland Browns:
• The Browns have employed 61 coaches in those three-plus seasons.
• Haslam has fired two presidents/CEOs (Mike Holmgren, Joe Banner), and, by Monday noon, three general managers (Tom Heckert, Mike Lombardi, Ray Farmer) and three coaches (Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski, Mike Pettine).
• Record since league approved Haslam as owner: 18-40.
10. The most unusual Rex Ryan statistic ever
From Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith: Rex Ryan is the first coach in league history to keep a team he coached the year before out of the postseason by beating them in the final game of the year.
What does that mean? It means nothing, really. Ryan knows a bunch of those players—their strengths, weaknesses, what makes them tick. He used that knowledge to beat them. (It also didn't hurt that Ryan Fitzpatrick imploded. A quick reminder that in 11 seasons, Fitzpatrick has yet to make the playoffs.)
One thing it does mean is that a hardcore rivalry is now underfoot. And for Ryan, it means he needs to go from playing the role of loudmouth and irritant to builder of a franchise. Despite the Jets' horrible loss, it's clear they have a plan, a good plan, and are building something good.
The next big mission for Ryan is to do something similar. Start building. Stop talking.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.