Forget the MLB hot stove, with baseball teams spending the winter offseason, well, not spending. The NFL may still be in the playoffs, but the coaching carousel and the potential availability of one of the league's best playmakers comprise all the hot rumors you need.
Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown is not happy with his team. He missed practices and meetings ahead of the team's Week 17 finale against the Cincinnati Bengals (which he did not play in) after a dispute with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, per Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The rift must be bad because even though Brown is one of the top wideouts in the game, Pittsburgh appears ready to let him go. Team president Art Rooney II said aside from releasing Brown, "all other options are on the table," per Dulac. If a trade is in order, it could happen before activities for the next season get underway.
According ESPN's Chris Mortensen, the Steelers are expecting to trade Brown by early March—before he is due a roster bonus.
Players of Brown's caliber simply do not end up on the open trade market, at least not when they are 31 and have recorded 686 receptions for 9,145 yards and 67 touchdowns over the past six seasons.
As Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman reports, a huge chunk of the league will be interested in Brown's services if he becomes available:
Few teams could justify not taking a look at Brown. The league's top offenses, such as the Kansas City Chiefs, New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams, could say no thanks, let's spend the cash we would give to Brown on our defense.
Other squads that have dominant, high-usage top wideouts like, say, the Atlanta Falcons (Julio Jones), Houston Texans (Deandre Hopkins) and the Minnesota Vikings (Adam Thielen) may not have room for Brown in the offense, though he did coexist just fine with JuJu Smith-Schuster (111 receptions, 1,426 yards) until it all fell apart ahead of the final gameweek of the season.
Beyond that, which team couldn't use a player like Brown, assuming they can pay his salary? He's a Hall of Fame-caliber talent, and though he may be at the end of his athletic prime, he just posted a career high in touchdowns (15). Most teams would be willing to bank all he needs is a change of scenery to put up another couple of 100-catch seasons without any team-chemistry issues.
It would be a wide-open market for Brown, so he will probably somehow end up on the dynastic New England Patriots as a sort of Randy Moss redux, leading to pure anguish for fans of the league's 31 other teams.
It doesn't look like Gregg Williams will be getting any head-coaching jobs this year. Despite taking over as head coach of the Cleveland Browns after Hue Jackson's firing in October and guiding the team to a 5-3 record, the team parted ways with him at the end of the regular season, opting to hire Freddie Kitchens as head coach.
One might think Williams' role in lifting the Browns off the league's doormat would get him head-coaching looks, but it appears the longtime defensive coordinator will be sticking to play-calling duties.
CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora noted Friday that four teams are looking at Williams as a coordinator, including the New York Jets and Washington.
The leading contender appears to be the Jets, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport:
The Jets finished 4-12 and at the bottom of the AFC East. They were 29th in points allowed and 25th in yards allowed per game in 2018. The Browns weren't all that much better, ranking 21st in points allowed and 30th in yards, but they did do a fine job of forcing turnovers, ranking second with 31 takeaways.
Gang Green were tied for 16th with just 20 takeaways. The team is undergoing a change at the top in hiring Adam Gase, and Williams' experience should be helpful in charting a new path forward.
As for Williams' replacement as coordinator in Cleveland, Rapoport has an idea of who they are homing in on:
Steve Wilks coached the Arizona Cardinals for just one season, going 3-13. He has spent most of his career as a position coach, but did serve as defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers in 2017, as well as a defensive coordinator in college.
The Miami Dolphins fired Gase at the end of the regular season. It appears the team is close to finding his replacement, apparently zeroing in on New England Patriots linebacker coach Brian Flores, per Rapoport:
ESPN's Jeff Darlington provided some context for their interest:
Jeff Darlington @JeffDarlington
Here’s what I can tell you about the Dolphins’ desire to hire Brian Flores: He was their first interview — and his leadership abilities were clear. The Dolphins didn’t want to find someone who focused on offense or defense. Their mission was simple: Find the best head coach.
The Dolphins are doing their due diligence, interviewing several candidates from around the league as well as special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi, per the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Omar Kelly.
But Flores has emerged as the front-runner, no doubt boosted by his longstanding work for the New England Patriots. Flores, 37, has worked his way up from scout to linebackers coach with the Patriots and has seen what makes a dynasty work from several angles.
Bill Belichick has an extensive coaching tree, and Flores could well be the latest in a long line of assistants and coordinators who have worked under Belichick to get their shot at running a team.
This one will be more interesting than most, though, as Flores would be going to a divisional rival.