NFL Rumors: Analyzing Buzz on Larry Fitzgerald Trade and NFL Coaching Vacancies

Nate Loop@Nate_LoopFeatured ColumnistJanuary 4, 2015

Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) makes a catch against the Kansas City Chiefs during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

The NFL playoffs are chugging right along through Wild Card Weekend 2015 and for some fans, this is all the football news they need.

However, Saturday's results mean the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers join the 20 teams whose seasons came to a dead-stop in late December in the "wait until next year" game. For those fans, the next few weeks of playoffs aren't as important as the next few months of offseason activity.

No NFLer wants to be sitting at home in January, thinking about what might have been. For this reason, the league's rumor generators heat up the winter as the media picks up on the hum of activity around the NFL.

It's a new year, and with it comes hope for new beginnings for most organizations. For some, it's salary-cap or draft issues. For others, it's a need for new personnel, whether that's on the field, on the sideline or in the front office. 

Here is a look at three of the latest rumors regarding a big-name wide receiver and the ever-revolving head-coaching carousel.

Fitzgerald on His Way out of Arizona?

Bob Leverone/Associated Press

Arizona Cardinals wideout Larry Fitzgerald has enjoyed a superb career up to this point, although a recent decline—his last 1,000 yard season came in 2011—suggests the 31-year-old may be finally fading from the top tier of the league's wide receiver corps. Then again, Fitzgerald could just be miscast as the only organization he's ever known in the NFL changes around him.

The Cards' recent playoff ouster at the hands of the Carolina Panthers notwithstanding, Fitzgerald has apparently grown frustrated with his role in 'Zona and could be on his way out, per Fox Sports' Craig Morgan:

Beyond that, Fitzgerald, 31, is not happy with his role on the team, the source said. He doesn't like playing in the slot and he's become far less of a focal point of the offense. While Fitzgerald led the team this season with 63 receptions and was second to Michael Floyd in yardage at 784, those numbers are the lowest since his rookie year, and his two touchdowns are a career low.

By refusing a big pay cut, he could force the Cardinals to trade him to a team where he'd have the opportunity to be the top receiving option again.

Morgan also notes at the top of his article that Fitzgerald "does not expect to be back with the Cardinals next season," per a source. ESPN's John Clayton believes Arizona should do what they can to hold on to their star wideout, although the situation could be unworkable:

John Clayton @ClaytonESPN

The Cards would be crazy to let Larry Fitzgerald go next year. He's older but he's money.

Fitzgerald's $23.6 million cap hit, fourth-highest in the league next season, per Spotrac, is rather unwieldy for a team that needs help at several positions, including running back, right tackle and linebacker.

ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio noted that the Cardinals reportedly won't cut Fitzgerald, but that "he could be traded, he could restructure his deal, or he could elect to negotiate an extension."

Morgan noted that Fitzgerald is unwilling to restructure his contract, and an extension is highly unlikely considering Arizona's murky quarterback situation.

This points to Fitzgerald potentially forcing his way out via trade.

Wide receivers Michael Floyd (25 years old) and John Brown (24) are plenty young and talented enough to carry the team's passing attack moving forward.

The eight-time Pro Bowler has also been something of a sympathetic character—unless your team happens to play him twice a year, I suppose—due to the Cardinals' abject inability to find a solid quarterback situation since the 2009 season.

Rather than induce nausea with a list of the names Fitzgerald has had throwing to him over the years, here is a look at the Cards' season-by-season league ranking in total QBR dating back to 2006:

Arizona Cardinals Team QBR Rankings, 2006-2014
SeasonNFL RankQBR

That's a long time to be stranded out in the desert. Carson Palmer offered some semblance of hope over the past couple of seasons, but it's unclear how the 35-year-old with a career 86.3 passer rating will recover from a season-ending ACL injury.

At 31 years old, Fitzgerald's skills will likely erode at a sustained pace over the next few seasons. Playing him as a slot receiver, when he's such an obvious threat on the outside due to his size and leaping ability, certainly isn't helping matters.

The Cards could perhaps find willing trade partners in the Oakland Raiders, who have a truly promising young quarterback in Derek Carr and should have ample cap room in 2015, or the Carolina Panthers, whose best receiver at this point is the brick-handed rookie Kelvin Benjamin.

Frank Reich Rising to the Top?

Bill Wippert/Associated Press

From 2009-2013, former journeyman quarterback and orchestrator of the largest comeback ever Frank Reich was a position coach with three different NFL teams.

In 2013, he was quarterbacks coach of the San Diego Chargers. In 2014, Reich moved up to offensive coordinator, replacing the departed Ken Whisenhunt, who took over as head coach of the Tennessee Titans. In 2015, Reich could be an NFL head coach.

According to The Buffalo News' Vic Carucci, the 53-year-old Reich has reportedly emerged as a candidate for the Buffalo Bills head coach position:

Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Frank Reich has emerged as a strong candidate to become the next coach of the Bills, The Buffalo News has learned.

Other names have been mentioned prominently in NFL circles, including Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz (who was head coach of the Detroit Lions before arriving in Buffalo before the 2014 season) and former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher.

However, multiple NFL sources say Reich immediately became the Bills’ top target after Doug Marrone exercised his option Wednesday to leave his job as head coach with two seasons left on his contract.

It would be a meteoric rise to the top should Reich secure the vacancy. Reich is familiar with the Bills organization, having played quarterback (mostly as a backup) for them from 1985-1994. Hall of Fame wideout Andre Reed has stumped for his former teammate.

 "I think he'd be a great head coach," Reed said on Wednesday's edition of NFL Network's NFL Total Access, per NFL.com's Dan Hanzus. "He knew a lot more about the offense, a lot more about the team than Jim Kelly even knew. When he came in there, we didn't miss a beat. I think he would makedefinitely would make a great head coach anywhere."

However, the team's interest in him likely has a better foundation than pure nostalgia.

Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

In his lone season as offensive coordinator, the Chargers ranked 18th in total yardage and 10th in offensive DVOA, an efficiency metric via FootballOutsiders.com. Those are decent numbers, especially considering the Chargers played with a banged-up running back corps for much of the season.

Still, the offense took a step back from when Whisenhunt ran the show; the Chargers ranked fifth in total yardage in 2013. Then again, one can look at Reich's tenure with the Bolts coinciding with the resurgent play of veteran quarterback Philip Rivers.

If Reich is indeed a quarterback guru, it's understandable why the Bills would covet him.

Kyle Orton abruptly retired at season's end, and the jury is still out on the young E.J. Manuel. The Bills have a deep running back corps, an emerging star at wideout in Sammy Watkins and a ferocious defense that ranked second in both sacks (57) and interceptions (23) in 2014. Buffalo needs to solve the quarterback situation if it is to take the next step and reach the playoffs from a tough AFC East division.

Carucci also noted reported interest from the Jets, who can also blame quarterback issues for much of their woes. Perhaps teams are looking for a return of the hurry-up K-Gun offense that Reich ran as a member of the Bills.

Reich played quarterback for the Bills for nine seasons and is reportedly a top candidate for the vacant head coach position.
Reich played quarterback for the Bills for nine seasons and is reportedly a top candidate for the vacant head coach position.Rick Stewart/Getty Images

The move wouldn't be without potential pitfalls, however. Reich's obvious lack of experience might not sit will with the coaches under him, especially the fiery defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who has head-coaching experience himself with the Detroit Lions. The same issue could come into play with the Jets, who have Marty Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator, who also coached the Lions.

Of course, Reich could work around this situation by bringing in his own staff. 

If Reich did find employment outside of San Diego, it would force the California organization to find a fourth offensive coordinator in four years, including each year of head coach Mike McCoy's tenure. For a team whose window for success shrinks the older Rivers gets, it could be a destabilizing development if Reich leaves and the team is forced to search for outside help rather than promote from within.

Gary Kubiak Draws Interest

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 21:  Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak  waits on the field before the start of the game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on December 21, 2014 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The Bills' or Jets' hiring of Reich would be an exciting, bold move, as assistants/coordinators often bring with them an air of hope and untapped potential. 

However, most NFL teams know to at least interview candidates with previous head-coaching experience. A second crack at head honcho has worked out well in the past for guys like Peter Carroll and Bill Belichick.

Enter Gary Kubiak, current offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens and former head coach of the Houston Texans. According to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport and SportsOnEarth's Dan Pompei, the Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets are all interested in the longtime NFL coach:

Dan Pompei @danpompei

Bears also expressing interest in Ravens OC Gary Kubiak for Head coach.

Ian Rapoport @RapSheet

Candidate generating interest under the radar: Gary Kubiak. After (if) #Ravens are out of playoffs, expect #49ers to talk to him. #Jets, too

Kubiak served as head coach of the Texans from 2006-2013, amassing a 61-64 regular season record with two postseason appearances in 2011 and 2012. Houston fired him during the 2013 season with the team's record at 2-11.

He's done well as offensive coordinator of the Ravens, overcoming the loss of Ray Rice and steering the squad to rank eighth in the league in rushing and ninth in offensive DVOA, per FootballOutsiders.com. Quarterback Joe Flacco posted career highs in passing yards (3,986), touchdowns (27) and QBR (67.3) this season, per ESPN.com.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh noted he called an excellent game in the team's 30-17 playoff win over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday, per KPRC-TV's Adam Wexler:

Adam Wexler @KPRC2AdamW

"Gary Kubiak called a great game. I thought he kept them off balance," #Ravens HC John Harbaugh on OC Kubiak.

Kubiak's experience as a former quarterback and reputation as an offensive-minded coach would serve all three of these teams well.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 24:  Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens speaks with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak during the first quarter of a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 24, 2014 in New Orleans, Louis
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The Chicago Bears need someone who can get into the enigmatic mind of Jay Cutler, while the Jets and 49ers have solid defenses in place but need help on offense. For the Jets, it's finding a viable quarterback. San Francisco needs an identity on offense, as they moved away from the play-action, power-running game this season to a spread out approach involving a number of four-wide receiver sets, despite the best efforts of veteran tailback Frank Gore.

Pompei opined Kubiak would fit in well with the Bears:

Dan Pompei @danpompei

Gary Kubiak is a Shanahan disciple who values the run. Solid, respected coach who would have a feel for using Cutler.

Should Kubiak land another head-coaching gig, he would be wise to search long and hard for a strong defensive coordinator. He enjoyed his greatest success (and yes, darkest days) with Wade Phillips running the defense from 2011-2013. Kubiak lacks a defensive touch, but he was successful enough with a nascent franchise to earn a second shot at the big chair.


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