1. The head-coaching carousel began twisting this week with the information and misinformation campaigns in full swing. Of all the big name candidates, Jeff Fisher is the only coach that is a virtual guarantee to be coaching somewhere in 2012 given that Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Brian Billick et al seem content to continue their lucrative careers in television without the daily grind that comes with leading a team. Fisher’s first stop was in Miami with a tour of the team’s facilities and a helicopter ride on offer to woo the long time Tennessee coach. Prior to Fisher’s trip to St. Louis, the rumor mill was hot that Miami was his top choice. He wasn’t sold on Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and Miami had the obvious benefits of Florida over Missouri, especially in terms of attracting free agents. The common thread amongst all those rumors was to increase Fisher’s leverage with respect to contract terms and organizational clout. However, while the Miami and St. Louis organizations are clearly hot for Fisher, the fact remains that several high profile, recycled head coaches have failed in recent seasons (witness Mike Shanahan’s struggles in Washington) and Fisher compiled a solid, yet unspectacular record of 142-120 while in Tennessee.
2. Raiders head coach Hue Jackson went off on his squad after his team’s disappointing 38-26 loss to the Chargers ended Oakland’s season. With Denver losing to the Chiefs, an Oakland win would have propelled them into the playoffs and, at least partially, justified Jackson’s decision to trade the team’s 1st round pick in the upcoming draft and a 2nd round pick in 2012 (which would have been upgraded to a 1st round pick had the Raiders qualified for the postseason) for quarterback Carson Palmer. When owner Al Davis passed away this season, Jackson filled the vacuum left behind and essentially took control of the organization. However, with the Raiders compiling a 4-2 record prior to the trade and going just 4-6 with Palmer in the lineup, Jackson’s decision-making is certainly being called into question within the organization, making his comments this week that he will become even more involved within the organization seem almost ludicrous. Look for owner Mark Davis to reel in Jackson’s authority and install a general manager with the power to either oversee Jackson or at least provide a strong counterbalance to his spontaneous, some might say reckless, decision-making.
3. Staying in the Bay area, San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh stated the obvious this week when he reportedly informed quarterback Alex Smith that he intends to re-sign him in the offseason. Credit Harbaugh with making the unpopular decision this past offseason to stick with the former first overall selection in the draft despite the cries for change coming from the team’s fan base. Smith had done little during his first six years in the league to justify Harbaugh’s faith in him but the former Stanford coach justified his decision based on game tape and Smith having had to deal with numerous offensive coordinators. That faith was rewarded with Smith having his finest season as a pro, setting career-highs in completion percentage (61.4%), passing yards (3,150) and rushing yards (179) while throwing just five interceptions against 17 touchdowns. It will be interesting to see what type of contract the team is willing to lavish on Smith, with rookie 2nd round pick Colin Kaepernick waiting in the wings. Look for the 49ers to re-sign Smith to a modest, four or five-year contract.
4. Reports out of Chicago indicate that quarterback Jay Cutler went to head coach Lovie Smith to inform him that he preferred that offensive coordinator Mike Martz, whose contract was up, not be re-signed. Smith agreed and the Bears will now look to find another coordinator after two up-and-down years with Martz calling the shots. While Martz may not have been Cutler’s favorite, his play calling and coaching helped Cutler pad his statistics given Martz’ propensity for throwing the football. Unfortunately for both, Chicago simply didn’t possess an offensive line solid enough to pass protect for the five and seven-step drops Martz prefers or wide receivers skilled and/or fast enough to run the deep patterns his offense is predicated on. In retrospect, Smith’s decision to hire Martz was a poor one since the team was intent on attempting to turn Devin Hester into their top receiver and going with mid to low-round picks (such as Earl Bennett and Johnny Knox) at the wide receiver position.
5. As any fantasy football owner with a modicum of experience knows, Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan is renowned for his unexplainable decisions at the running back position with playing time doled out based on no consistent formula. While it was encouraging to hear the Redskins head coach endorse both of his rookie runners this week (4th round pick Roy Helu and 6th round pick Evan Royster), look for the team’s running back situation to be a fantasy mess once again in 2012. Helu had a number of solid outings but couldn’t stay healthy while Royster didn’t even make the team coming out of the preseason. It seems highly unlikely that Shanahan will hand the running back reigns over to a pair of second year players, meaning unrestricted free agent Tim Hightower, whose season ended after he suffered a torn ACL in Week 7, is likely to be brought back. If Hightower or another veteran is added to the roster, look for a committee approach at the position once again in 2012.
6. While San Diego owner Dean Spanos made the surprising decision to retain both general manager A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner, there is a decent possibility that there could be major changes in the team’s group of receivers. Vincent Jackson, the team’s top wide receiver for several years, is a free agent once again and may want to move on given his unhappiness with his contract situation over each of the past two off-seasons. If the Chargers decide against offering Jackson a long-term deal, they may decide to place the franchise tag on him to secure his services for the 2012 season. Malcom Floyd is under contract for next season and played well opposite Jackson but has been injury-prone, missing nine games over the past two seasons. Slot receiver Patrick Crayton is unlikely to return given the presence of rookie 3rd round pick Vincent Brown, who played well when given an opportunity. At tight end, Antonio Gates suffered through another injury-marred season and may not be retained given the $10.4-million he is due to be paid next season.