A week after addressing the issue on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin discussed the NFL's lack of Black head coaches in a follow-up interview with Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, expressing his concern about the lack of progress in Black coaches getting hired for open jobs.
“I don’t have an answer for you as to how to make it better,” Tomlin said. “The optimist in me says things will get better, but there’s been no evidence in the recent cycles to back that up. Without evidence, all we have is hope. We just haven’t been able to move the needle.”
Tomlin specifically addressed Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who has not followed in the paths of previous offensive coordinators under Andy Reid that have gone on to become head coaches. That Bieniemy has yet to matriculate to the next level is, to Tomlin, a "real head-scratcher."
“Every offensive coordinator Andy Reid has had in the last 20 years got a head job," Tomlin said. "One of those guys, Brad Childress, hired me in Minnesota in 2006. Now, Andy has the best offense he’s ever had and (Bieniemy) can’t get a job?”
Tomlin also addressed the issue of him not having a Black coordinator during his 14-year helm with the Steelers. Last offseason, he interviewed Pep Hamilton for his vacant offensive coordinator position but ended up promoting quarterbacks coach Matt Canada instead.
“I always do what is best for our organization,” Tomlin said. “I believe in hiring from within in most cases. ... I’m highly sensitive to it, but I don’t regret (not having a Black coordinator). I’ve had some good (Black) coaches leave for other jobs. Ray Horton. Scottie Montgomery went back to college. Kirby Wilson was hurt in that house fire.”
Tomlin is one of three Black head coaches in the NFL, along with Brian Flores of the Miami Dolphins and David Culley of the Houston Texans.
If new Broncos general manager George Paton isn’t way better at this draft thing than John Elway, why is he here?
And how could Paton possibly be worse? Denver has fallen off the NFL map because Elway’s paint-by-numbers approach to the draft painted the Broncos into a corner.
So with the ninth overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, what will Paton do with his first big chance to reverse the fortunes of a downwarding spiraling franchise?
If you believe the draftniks, who often make a mockery of projecting first-round picks by cheating off each other’s paper in an annual excercise of group think, the Broncos must take a cornerback, because it’s a position of obvious need. In nearly every mock draft you read, Denver will select either Caleb Farley of Virginia Tech or Patrick Surtain II of Alabama, because the Broncos lack a shutdown corner.
But drafting strictly for need in the first round would be the worst mistake Paton could make.
With a top-10 pick, there should be only one criteria for a football team that has failed to qualify for the playoffs in five straight seasons. Paton must look for a player capable of making the Pro Bowl a perennial basis, regardless of position. The Broncos are a last-place team because outside of Von Miller, there isn’t anybody on the current roster on the path to the Hall of Fame.
While draftniks can debate the merits of Farley vs. Surtain for the Broncos until the room is filled with so much hot air you want to climb out the nearest window, here’s the real nitty gritty: There are legit questions about whether either Farley or Surtain can step in and be a CB1 at the NFL level, much less develop into Hall of Fame talent.
While the athleticism of Farley is definitely intriguing, his history of spotty health also poses a legit concern, especially after he opted out of the 2020 college season, perhaps using the pandemic to shield him from the possibility of another injury. And Surtain? He’s the son of an NFL player and a solid technician. But watch video of the Crimson Tide’s victory over Ohio State in the national championship game and it’s hard to make the case for Surtain as a true shutdown corner.
I’m no draftnik, but my hard-and-fast rule is to always seek the biggest impact player available in the first round. That philosophy made me firmly believe Justin Jefferson would make more noise in the red zone as a rookie receiver than Jerry Jeudy did by griping about not getting the football a year ago, just as I pounded the table for the Broncos to draft Quenton Nelson in 2018, because Hall of Fame offensive linemen aren’t easy to find.
Yes, the draft is a roll of the dice. My outside-the-box take is there are better gambles for the Broncos at No. 9 than either Farley or Surtain.
If Denver is stuck with Drew Lock as its starting quarterback in the season-opener, then offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will be hard-pressed to find a way to outscore Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs unless somebody else can become the focus of this offense.
Alabama running back Najee Harris, however, could change the math for Denver. At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, he could punish the oh-so-soft K.C. defense. It was Harris who led the Tide’s stampede through Florida, Notre Dame and Ohio State to the national championship, rushing for 382 yards in three games. By carrying the load and catching the ball, he would make Lock shine.
And did you see how Tampa Bay rattled Mahomes in the Super Bowl with relentless athletic pursuit on defense? The Swiss Army knife Paton could give Fangio to carve up the Chiefs is Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. He has closing speed that kills drives. The Irish lined him up in the box, the slot, the D-line and even the secondary. Owusu-Koramoah is on the cutting edge of a new NFL trend of athletes who are as unconventional and nearly unstoppable as Mahomes can be at quarterback.
Need I repeat the sad story of why the Broncos find themselves in such a sad current state of affairs? While the diamonds in his Super Bowl rings will shine forever, Elway consistently stunk at draft and develop.
He had a nasty habit of selecting quarterbacks because they were tall (duh). A year ago, when coach Vic Fangio craved a linebacker to give his defensive scheme some punch, Elway gave him a wide receiver in both the first and second rounds.
While Bradley Chubb is often lauded as a pick Elway got right, it was a selection the Broncos made without properly doing their homework, when the team could’ve instead transformed their ailing offensive line by taking Nelson, or rolled the dice on quarterback Josh Allen, who played up the road from the team’s Dove Valley headquarters at Wyoming.
Everyone in Broncos Country, myself included, seems obsessed with who will play quarterback in 2021. We hope against all reason a trade with Houston for Deshaun Watson could be even remotely possible.
But it is how well Paton drafts that will determine whether Denver can return to championship relevancy anytime soon. He must dare to think big and outside the box.
It’s rare to see a future Hall of Fame inductee hit free agency. Just over two weeks ago, the Houston Texans released star defensive end, JJ Watt, making him the hottest commodity on the open market. Now, over half the teams in the league have shown interest in signing the 32-year old ‘All-Decade’ performer. While he is certainly not the peak performer that he once was during his prime, Watt is still capable of making a very high impact and would be viewed as the ‘sure-thing,’ more than any player in the upcoming 2021 NFL Draft.
The face of the franchise during his tenure in Houston, Watt was named All-Pro on five occasions, NFL Defensive Player of the Year three times and the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2017. Even more extraordinary was his work in the community, as his Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund raised more than $41 million dollars. It is certainly the end of an era in Houston and the beginning of what could be the missing link for one other lucky organization.
There will be plenty of factors involved that go into Watt’s decision; will he look to reunite with his brother TJ in Pittsburgh? Does he seek out that provides him the best opportunity to win a chip, such as the Buffalo Bills? Or would he entertain the idea of capitalizing on the only time he will ever hit the open market and grab a monster payday from a team such as the New England Patriots, who are flushed with cap space? Let's examine some of the possibilities.‘THE FAVORITES’
The Bills were one of the best teams in the NFL in 2020 and are positioned to compete for a Super Bowl. Their top selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, defensive end AJ Epenesa, struggled in his rookie season. Watt is both a short-term upgrade in a win-now situation and a possible mentor to aid the talented second-year player.
Green Bay Packers
Playing in Green Bay would give Watt a chance to reach the Super Bowl as early as 2022, so long as Aaron Rodgers remains on the team. Playing at Lambeau Field would have personal meaning for the talented defensive end. Watt is a Wisconsin native, attended the University of Wisconsin and spends a good portion of his offseason in Wisconsin.
It’s all about who you know, right? Titans head coach Mike Vrabel and defensive coordinator Shane Bowen are both former members of the Texans. Tennessee needs an influx of pass-rushing talent. Watt can provide that surge. The Titans are just two seasons removed from an AFC Championship appearance and are positioned to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season in 2021.‘THE SLEEPERS’
When considering possible destinations for big-name free agents, it is essential to acknowledge teams that have historically been aggressive in acquiring recognizable talent. The Browns fit that bill. They appear to have a small window of opportunity to compete now and they have the reigning NFL Coach of the Year, Kevin Stefanski.
Las Vegas Raiders
Can the allure of Las Vegas be enough to sway Watt to Sin City? The Raiders will be looking to host their new stadium with fans for the first time and Watt would be worth the return on his investment. Watt would serve as a model for former top-five pick and fellow big-bodied defensive end Clelin Ferrell to learn from and could help develop budding pass-rushing Maxx Crosby.‘NOTABLE CONTENDERS’
There would be some manipulating of the cap required here but Pittsburgh can draw on the bloodlines card, with brothers TJ and Derek in tow. In addition, talented edge rusher Bud Dupree is set to become a free agent. The stars could be aligned properly for a family reunion in the Steel City. Despite their shortcomings down the stretch, this was a team who did rattle off 11 straight victories to begin the season.
One would think that the family connections would give the Steelers an edge over their division rival but the Ravens are in line to have plenty of cap space and have one of the most exciting young quarterbacks in former MVP Lamar Jackson. Baltimore has had previous success with free-agent imports, most recently Calais Campbell, so they shouldn’t be ruled out.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If rings are the thing, then Tampa Bay awaits his destination. The defending Super Bowl Champions have several vital cogs on defense who will hit the open market, including Ndamukong Suh, Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David. Chances are slim of re-signing all three, by adding Watt, he could help offset any losses and help reload for the repeat.
This is sure to be a riveting offseason, led by the dominating storyline of where JJ Watt’s next destination will be. We still have two weeks to find out the outcome. In the meantime, all we can do now is wait, anticipate and speculate!
*Be sure to check back here at the NFL Draft Bible as new information on this story develops.
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