The New York Jets landed arguably the top cornerback on the free-agent market, with a league source telling ESPN’s Adam Schefter the team is expected to sign former Los Angeles Rams “franchise” player Trumaine Johnson.
The contract terms weren’t immediately available. Johnson intends to sign his deal after 4 p.m. Wednesday, when the league year begins, according to the source.
The addition of Johnson was an important one for the Jets, whose system is predicated on man-to-man coverage by the corners. Before landing Johnson, they had only one starting-caliber corner under contract, Buster Skrine, who is best suited to the No. 3 role.
The Jets also have been in talks with Morris Claiborne, who started 15 games last season. There’s still a chance they could re-sign Claiborne, which would fortify a secondary that allowed 30 touchdown passes last season.
Johnson posted a farewell to the Rams on his Instagram account Monday. He will be reunited with secondary coach Dennard Wilson, who was his position coach with the Rams through 2016.
Johnson, 28, spent the past two years as the Rams’ primary cornerback and played under the franchise tag in both those seasons, his salary jumping to $16.74 million in 2017. He was arguably the best corner available on the free-agent market this offseason, mainly because of his size, his ability to match up with elite receivers and his track record for staying healthy.
Among 86 cornerbacks with at least 325 coverage snaps, Pro Football Focus had Johnson ranked 35th in opponents’ completion percentage (57.3) and 36th in opponents’ passer rating (79.8) when targeted. He allowed 1.33 yards per coverage snap, which put him within the bottom 20 percent of qualified cornerbacks.
But Johnson also spent a lot of time shadowing the likes of Pierre Garcon, Dez Bryant, Marqise Lee, Larry Fitzgerald, DeAndre Hopkins, Michael Thomas and Alshon Jeffery in 2017. Those seven combined to catch only 57.7 percent of their targets when Johnson was responsible for covering them, nearly 8 percentage points below the NFL average, according to numbers compiled by ESPN.
A third-round pick out of Montana in 2012, Johnson has 18 interceptions and 42 pass breakups over the past six seasons, playing in 85 of a potential 96 regular-season games. During that time, he has proved capable of playing on both sides of the field.
ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez contributed to this report.
Bears-Packers, Part II: What has changed, lies ahead for rivals – Green Bay Packers Blog
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For the Bears, however, that game might have been just what they needed to fuel their comeback season.
More than three months later, the two teams meet again Sunday at Soldier Field. The Packers’ comeback from a 20-0 deficit to stun the Bears 24-23 is a distant memory. The Packers have won only four times since then and have faint playoff hopes. Meanwhile, the Bears, at 9-4, are in control of the NFC North.
Here’s a look at what has changed and what’s ahead for both teams, from ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky and ESPN Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson.
What’s the biggest change for each team since Week 1?
Demovsky: Mike McCarthy. Say what you will about McCarthy, but he went 19-7 against the Bears in his 13 years, including a win at Soldier Field in the 2010 NFC Championship Game. That also included nine wins in the past 10 meetings in the series. But McCarthy’s part of the Packers’ history is over. The Packers looked like an inspired team Sunday in Joe Philbin’s first game as interim head coach, but can that carry over? One thing can, and that’s Philbin’s approach to the offense. He wanted Aaron Rodgers to get the ball out of his hands more quickly, so Philbin’s playcalls included more of the old West Coast plays.
Dickerson: The Bears learned how to finish games. Chicago had Green Bay on the ropes in the season opener, but second-half breakdowns on both sides of the ball allowed Aaron Rodgers to bring the Packers back from the brink. The Bears still make plenty of mistakes on offense, but their defense — led by Khalil Mack — is spectacular. The Bears likely won’t again squander a big lead like they did in Week 1. Chicago’s defense is simply too good to let that happen.
At what point in the season was it clear that the Packers were in trouble?
Demovsky: After the Week 4 win over the Bills. That’s right, a 22-0 shutout actually signaled that things weren’t right in Green Bay. That’s when Rodgers used his postgame news conference to rip McCarthy’s game plan. From then on, questions about whether McCarthy and Rodgers were on good terms dominated the landscape around the team, and in hindsight, that was the beginning of the end for McCarthy.
At what point in the season was it clear that the Bears were a lot better than expected?
Dickerson: When the Bears knocked off the Vikings in Week 11. That victory served as a statement to the rest of the NFC North that the Bears were for real. Sunday night’s win over the Rams put it over the top. I don’t think there are many people left who believe the Bears are a fluke. Sure, critics still question quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, and rightfully so, but the Bears are a legitimate playoff team.
Where does this season rank in Rodgers’ career?
Demovsky: The knee-jerk reaction would be at the bottom, which is remarkable considering that he has thrown 23 touchdowns and just one interception. But Rodgers has missed so many throws that he used to make with his eyes closed. More than anything, two throws into dirt on critical late-game series in losses at Seattle and Minnesota stick out. But Rodgers’ knee injury had to play a factor, whether he wants to admit it or not. It might not hurt anymore, but perhaps it messed with his footwork and fundamentals more than anyone’s willing to admit.
What has been the most important development for Trubisky in Year 2?
Dickerson: Playing in Matt Nagy’s system. To describe the Bears’ offense last season as “lacking creativity” is an understatement. This is a whole new world for Trubisky, who’s the perfect quarterback to run the RPO style of offense Nagy brought with him from Kansas City. Nagy consistently calls for rollouts, misdirection and quarterback keeps — the perfect mix of plays for Trubisky to run. Having proven playmakers such as Allen Robinson, Tarik Cohen, Anthony Miller and others on offense certainly helps, but none of the success happens without Nagy.
What should the Packers be looking for in their next coach?
Demovsky: Someone Rodgers will listen to. He and McCarthy had a workable give-and-take for most of their tenure, but something changed. That’s probably natural in any coach-quarterback relationship, but when team president Mark Murphy said McCarthy’s tenure had “run its course,” those words — harsh as they were — probably applied more to the coach and quarterback than anything else. Who was at fault? We might never know. But Rodgers is still the employee, and the coach is still the boss. The relationship must be viewed that way.
What has Nagy brought to the Bears in his first season?
Dickerson: The Bears might have had the least amount of fun in the NFL under John Fox. Nagy is the total opposite. Sure, it helps that the Bears are winning, but Nagy completely changed the culture. He’s creative, innovative, relatable, energetic, and most importantly, he holds himself accountable. We rarely saw that from the previous regime. Nagy should win coach of the year. He has been that good in just his first season.
As the Packers look to hire a coach and improve their roster, is there anything they can learn from the Bears?
Demovsky: Don’t be afraid to offer the farm for a generational player. Yes, the Packers were involved in the Khalil Mack trade talks, and perhaps the Raiders thought the Bears’ draft picks would be higher since they were seemingly in rebuilding mode. But first-year GM Brian Gutekunst missed out on a chance to add a rare talent.
Do you view the Bears as legitimate Super Bowl contenders?
Dickerson: That’s tough to say. The Bears’ biggest regret is that they failed to take care of business two weeks ago in New York. Had the Bears defeated the Giants, they’d be squarely in the mix for a first-round playoff bye. As it stands, the Bears will probably have to play in New Orleans or Los Angeles in the NFC divisional round (granted they win their first-round game). Those are tough places to play. I certainly can’t rule out the Bears making it to the Super Bowl, but it’s tougher to play that dominating style of defense inside the Superdome or at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.
What do the Packers have to do in the offseason to challenge the Bears in 2019?
Demovsky: Get Rodgers back on track, and add a few key pieces. They’ve invested heavily in Rodgers with their $134 million extension, and there’s no reason to think he can’t get back to his MVP ways. But he’s going to need some help. Besides Davante Adams and Aaron Jones, what other legitimate weapons does he have? Defensively, keeping coordinator Mike Pettine on board even after the coaching change and giving him a productive edge rusher would make for a nice complement to an MVP-caliber quarterback.
What are the Bears missing that they need to address in the offseason?
Dickerson: Another lightning-quick running back to complement Tarik Cohen. Jordan Howard had his best game of the season, with 101 rushing yards against the Rams, but it still seems unlikely that he is part of the team next season. The Bears can also probably look to upgrade on the offensive line at right tackle, but none of these is a huge move. The core of the Bears’ roster is essentially set. Plus, the Bears don’t pick until the third round this year, partly because of the Mack trade.
Cousins or Darnold? It was best $90 million Jets never spent – New York Jets Blog
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The New York Jets were disappointed and frustrated when they were rejected by Kirk Cousins. They saw him as a franchise savior, and they offered him a savior salary (three years, $90 million, fully guaranteed) even though he hadn’t won anything of significance with the Washington Redskins. They tried to justify their Cousins crush by saying it was a rare opportunity to add an established quarterback.
Cousins’ underwhelming season with the Minnesota Vikings, including a Monday-night clunker that got his offensive coordinator fired, triggers two thoughts from a Jets perspective:
Cousins would’ve been a bad fit for the rebuilding Jets, which he evidently realized because he used them as leverage and never gave them serious consideration. If he’s having problems with the Vikings, whose supporting cast is far superior to that of the Jets, imagine how he’d be playing in New York. You can’t make a definitive projection because football is an inexact science, but let’s be realistic.
Hands? Anyone? Anyone?
Didn’t think so.
Maccagnan’s would be toast if he had an underachieving $90 million quarterback, so you might say Cousins saved Maccagnan’s job by taking less money from the Vikings. As it stands now, Maccagnan is no lock to return in 2019, but at least he can build a case for himself because of Sam Darnold, whose triumphant return to the lineup on Sunday added fuel to the Jets’ near-empty tank.
Years from now, the Jets might look back at that fourth quarter against the Buffalo Bills and call it a turning point in Darnold’s development. He demonstrated one of the most important traits for a successful quarterback — the ability to rally his team from a deficit. Using his arm and his legs, he notched his first fourth-quarter comeback win. It was a nice step.
Even though Darnold said he tries to stay in the present, he acknowledged Tuesday, “I do think about where I’m going to be in a year or two from now, and I’m really excited. I’m really excited where I can go from here. I’m really optimistic about the future and what it holds.”
For now, the key for Darnold is stacking winning performances. Next up are the Houston Texans (9-4), who can make it miserable for quarterbacks because of a front seven that features J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Darnold understands the deal: He must achieve consistency to take the next step as a young quarterback. He leads the league with 15 interceptions, but you get the feeling he’s not worried about making mistakes, which is the proper mindset.
“I’m definitely not going to flinch if I feel like something is there,” he said. “If I throw an interception, I’m definitely going to be pissed off about it, but [I’ll] move on. If a play is there and I see it’s there, I’m going to rip it again. I’m not going to think about it. That’s kind of the way I am, how I’ve played my whole life.”
At the start of the offseason, Darnold wasn’t Plan A for the Jets. No, their misguided Plan A was Cousins. When that fell through, Maccagnan quickly pivoted to the college draft after signing cheap insurance policies Josh McCown and Teddy Bridgewater (since traded). He made the St. Patrick’s Day trade with the Indianapolis Colts that allowed him to jump three spots in the draft. He got lucky when Darnold fell, but luck is the residue of design, as Baseball Hall of Fame executive Branch Rickey used to say.
Darnold still is somewhat of a mystery because he has played only 10 games, but his ceiling is higher than Cousins’ current level. Darnold, 21, is nine years younger and $60 million cheaper than Cousins, benefits that outweigh the risk of the unknown. It would be different if the Jets were close to contending, but they have a ways to go, and Darnold can grow up with the team.
Cousins, who went to a alleged Super Bowl contender, is having a Cousins-like year. He’s putting up impressive individual numbers (24 touchdowns, 9 interceptions), but his team is hovering around mediocrity at 6-6-1. With all that talent, the Vikings have scored 282 points, only 12 more than the Jets. It’s one of the reasons why coordinator John DeFilippo was fired Tuesday.
The Vikings have Cousins for two more years at $58 million. The Jets had pen in hand, ready to write the check. It’s a good thing they didn’t.
Benefits of mentor Sean Payton? Dan Campbell is ready to be a head coach – New Orleans Saints Blog
METAIRIE, La. — Dan Campbell was thrown into the fire when he got his first head-coaching gig three years ago.
He did a fine job — going 5-7 as the Miami Dolphins‘ interim coach before they decided to hire Adam Gase in the offseason. But Campbell, who was the youngest coach in the NFL at the time, at 39, also knew he needed more seasoning.
So what better than three years of graduate school under Sean Payton as the New Orleans Saints‘ assistant head coach and tight ends coach?
Not only is Payton one of the game’s best head coaches, but he was also a mentor of Campbell’s throughout much of his 10-year playing career as a tight end with the Giants, Cowboys, Lions and Saints.
“It’s been extremely helpful,” said Campbell, who figures to be a popular head-coaching candidate this cycle at age 42 now that the Saints have re-emerged as one the NFL’s hottest teams over the past two seasons.
Campbell already got an interview with the Indianapolis Colts last year.
“You don’t know exactly what you’re looking for [as a head coach] until you get thrust into that role like I did at Miami. Well, once that doesn’t work out, I have a chance to come and learn under Sean, and now you know what you’re looking for, and now you know the questions to ask,” Campbell said. “So to be able to watch and learn under Sean and see how he deals with situations, see how he deals with management of a game, how he deals with personnel, how he deals with scheme. Just dealing with people, scheduling — everything.
“You talk about a wealth of knowledge now. So it’s been extremely helpful.”
In coming to New Orleans, Campbell basically ripped a page out of Payton’s playbook.
Probably the best thing Payton did as a young, up-and-coming coach was to land a job on Bill Parcells’ staff with the Dallas Cowboys in the early 2000s.
For three years in Dallas, Payton not only ran the Cowboys’ offense, but he took notes on everything he could absorb about how to be a head coach. From scheduling to personnel decisions to quotes that still hang in the Saints’ locker room to this day.
Parcells is still one of Payton’s closest friends and most cherished mentors.
And, oh by the way, it won’t hurt Campbell that he comes from that same coaching tree. Campbell played on those Cowboys teams under Parcells and Payton from 2003-05. He later got his start as a coaching assistant under another Parcells protégé, Tony Sparano, with the Dolphins in 2010.
Campbell said that, yes, he absolutely considered the benefits of learning how to be a better head coach under Payton when he chose the Saints over several other suitors in 2016 — including the Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings.
“But I would tell you that was No. 2 on the list,” Campbell said. “No. 1 was I know Sean, and I have a history with Sean. So I just knew about him as a person and as a coach. So to be reunited with him meant the world to me.”
What stands out most with Campbell is his presence — a big, booming voice and a 6-foot-5 frame that doesn’t weigh 265 pounds anymore like when he played, but remains chiseled.
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And sure enough, when he got the Miami job, he started adding some elements of toughness to the team right away — like Oklahoma drills and even tug-of-war to the practice routine, along with having the starting units practice against each other instead of scout teams at times.
But when you ask players what stands out about Campbell, they talk first about what a great person he is and how he cares for his players. Drew Brees even mentioned his sense of humor.
“He’s got a personality now, too. He’ll put on funny clips [when coaches present the scouting report each week]. He knows when to kind of loosen up and have fun,” Brees said. “He’s a guy who played a long time. So he’s got a level of respect coming from guys for how he played — he’s a tough, physical guy. He just really cares about his players. You can see that in the way he talks to us, talks to his position group. He’s just got a lot of great leadership qualities in that way. And I think he’s just a good person.
“So you combine all those things, and then he’s a person that you want to follow. And a person you believe in and you know he’s gonna be honest with you.”
Left tackle Terron Armstead said Campbell definitely has that “it factor” that helps elevate coaches into top jobs.
“He got it, man. He got it. Everybody here would do whatever for that guy,” Armstead said. “Being so relatable, having done it for so long, just has a great connection with the younger players. I’ve never seen him badmouth anybody, [it’s] more talking up to you. Even when they mess up, he’s gonna talk up to them. And you just want to play for somebody like that.
“You want to run through a brick wall for him. I would.”
Even defensive end Cameron Jordan said he has connected with Campbell, talking to him about how he can combat tight ends who try to chip-block him — and finding out ways he can talk trash to the Saints’ tight ends during training camp.
“He’s somebody who played in the NFL, someone who’s clearly an alpha — it’s easy to see that,” Jordan said of Campbell, who was used mostly as a blocking specialist during his playing career, finishing with a total of 934 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Payton and players have also credited Campbell for being a great teacher — which is evident in the growth of first-year Saints tight end Dan Arnold, who joined the team in 2017 as an undrafted wide receiver, among others. Campbell also helped tutor guys such as Charles Clay and Dion Sims as young tight ends in Miami.
“He’s a fantastic leader. Obviously played a long time in this league. He’s everything you want,” Payton said. “Extremely dedicated, hardworking. He’s exactly how he was as a player. And I tried to hire him a number of times and finally had that opportunity. So, we’re fortunate to have him.”
More Saints coaches on other teams’ radar
Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen struggled during his three years as the Oakland Raiders‘ coach from 2012-14. But the 46-year-old is still young, and he has only continued to enhance his reputation over the past two years in New Orleans.
The Saints have quietly been playing some of the best defense in the NFL over the past 11 weeks, ranking second in the NFL in points allowed per game over that span (18.0), first in run defense (75.6 yards per game), second in sacks (35), tied for third in takeaways (19) and eighth in total yards allowed per game (327.2).
“I hope not. I hope DA is here as long as I’m here,” said Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who is having a breakout year with eight sacks. “He’s done a phenomenal job of putting us in the right positions to not only be able to compete but to make a difference on this team. … I think he does a great job of learning his players and not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. I think that’s big when you talk about a really good coach.”
Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. also doesn’t get nearly the attention he deserves since he has been sandwiched between Payton and Brees over the past 13 years. But the 47-year-old has gotten a handful of head-coaching looks over the years — and he should absolutely be lumped in with the group of offensive innovators, such as Sean McVay and Matt Nagy, who have been setting the league on fire lately.
Offensive line coach Dan Roushar, secondary coach Aaron Glenn, defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen and running backs coach Joel Thomas are rising names in the business, too. Linebackers coach Mike Nolan, quarterbacks coach Joe Lombardi, receivers coach Curtis Johnson and senior defensive assistant Peter Giunta have been head coaches or coordinators in the past in the NFL or college.
“I’ve said this before — I think that’s a positive thing [when assistant coaches are interviewed elsewhere],” Payton said. “I think that when no one’s asking them, that’s a little bit more of a concern.”
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