Saban needs to own up to Brees mistake

Nick Saban’s legacy is that he is one of the best college coaches in NFL history.

He has won seven national championships, one more than Bear Bryant, who won six. And Saban may add more to his gaudy resume.

Yet there is one blemish on his coaching record that still seems to haunt him – his 15-17 record in Miami as an NFL coach in 2005 and 2006.

That record doesn’t diminish his reputation as a coach. Very few successful college coaches have won NFL titles. Paul Brown, Jimmy Johnson, Pete Carroll and Barry Switzer are the only four to do it and Switzer took over a team that won the two previous titles in Dallas under Johnson.

The signature moment of Saban’s short NFL career came when he bypassed signing an injured Drew Brees when he was a free agent and signed Daunte Culpepper. Brees, of course, went on to star for the Saints while Culpepper, who had knee injuries, was at the end of the line.

It was an obvious mistake by Saban, but he never takes responsibility for it. He blames the doctors for flunking Brees on the physical. Which wasn’t surprising because Brees arm was in a sling.

The interesting thing is that Saban doesn’t seem willing to let go of the narrative that it was the doctor’s fault that the Dolphins didn’t sign Brees.

He even brought it up again when Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses wasn’t drafted and signed as a free agent by the Jaguars. Moses missed the 2019 season with a torn ACL and then admitted he played last year in pain.

So it wasn’t surprising teams didn’t want to risk signing a player who admitted he played in pain last year and whose production dropped from 2018.

But Saban said the teams should have overlooked that fact he played hurt last year and drafted him. And then he brought up Brees and said it was another case where the doctors made a mistake.

“So I guess they (doctors) make mistakes, too,” he said.

Of course, we don’t know yet when they made a mistake on Moses until he proves he can play in the NFL on his damaged knee.

And Jason Cole, who covered the Dolphins when Saban was coaching them and said he enjoyed covering Saban, noted that Saban was in charge and could have signed Brees if he wanted to.

PFT made a similar point that Saban certainly could have found a doctor to give the green light to sign Brees if he wanted to. Sean Payton, the New Orleans coach signed him.

The larger issue is that Saban apparently can’t get over the Brees mistake.

But there’s one way Saban could still prove he can win in the NFL. He could leave Alabama and coach another NFL team. Certainly Saban would be in demand if he showed an interest in coming back to the NFL.

Of course, Saban isn’t going to do that. He has it too good at Alabama where he can recruit an unending stream of five-star players and usually has more talent than the opposing teams he faced.

So if Saban doesn’t want to coach in the NFL again, he should stop bringing up Brees as a reminder that his short tenure in the NFL wasn’t a success.

49ers’ bet on Lance is big and bold

There is an old saying that owners own, coaches coach and players play.

For the San Francisco 49ers, things are a little more complicated and the roles are blurred.

That is why the 49ers’ decision to give up a third-round pick this year and their first-round picks the next two years to move up nine spots to draft Trey Lance with the third pick was a move with a lot of ramifications for the future of the team.

Yes, the same Lance who played just 19 college games at North Dakota State, just one last year.
And the team already has Jimmy Garoppolo, who obviously is no longer in their long-term plans.

Lance was one of the five quarterbacks drafted with the first 15 picks. The other four are Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields and Mac Jones.

We all know that not all five are going to make it big. That’s not realistic.

What we don’t know is which ones are going to live up to expectations and which ones don’t.

It is fair to say, though, that the 49ers and Lance are in the most interesting situation.
To start with, they have to decide what is Garappolo’s future.

Coach Kyle Shanahan made a statement before the draft when asked about Jimmy G that he had to backtrack on after the draft.

“I totally bombed that,” Shanahan said. “I hated how that came off. I talked to Jimmy about it right away. I didn’t realize (how it sounded) when I did it. A person (reporter) I have a relationship with who sometimes he asks me what I think is a silly question, sometimes I mess with him back, and that’s kind of what I was doing. That was between me and that guy, had nothing to do with Jimmy when I said, ‘I didn’t know if we’d be alive Sunday.’ ”

As if things weren’t complicated enough, owner Jed York said publicly he asked Frank Gore for his opinion on the quarterbacks in the draft and he endorsed Lance.

It’s unusual for an owner to ask a player for his advice. Gore played with the 49ers for a decade and is currently a free agent.

Gore also said he would be OK if Garoppolo played for two more years before his contract runs out.

Let’s sort this out. There is no way Garoppolo is going to play two more seasons and then walk away as a free agent. He will be traded either before or after the upcoming season.

The larger question is how good Lance is going to be. If he turns out to be another Carson Wentz, Shanahan and general manager John Lynch are going to have some explaining to do. They have put their future in Lance’s hands and need Lance to be an elite quarterback.

It is like they are walking on a high wire without a net as they prepare for upcoming season.

Tomlin needs to start justifying Steelers’ patience

Bum Phillips was fired by the late Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams at the end of the 1980 season after he lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion in the playoffs three years in a row.

Two years later, the Oilers were 1-8 in the strike season of 1982 and then went 2-14, 3-13 and 5-11 in the next three seasons.

That may be the best example of why it is usually not a good idea to fire a playoff coach because he keeps losing in the playoffs.

And it brings to mind the often overlooked reality that the goal isn’t winning the Super Bowl. It is to stay in contention to keep the fans coming and avoid those two or three win seasons.

Which brings us to the case of Steeler coach Mike Tomlin and the team’s recent decision to extend his contract through the 2024 season.

Giving him that long of an extension wasn’t that popular in Pittsburgh because of his record in the last decade – just three playoff wins — but it is the Steeler way of doing things. They’ve only had three coaches since 1969 when Chuck Noll was hired.

And it was really a two-year extension because they already had an option for the 2020 season.

The extension came off a frustrating season when the team started off 11-0 and then collapsed, losing five of the last six including an ugly 48-37 playoff loss to a Cleveland team that was missing its head coach because of Covid.

Despite having a Super Bowl victory on his resume, he has an 8-8 playoff record and hasn’t won a playoff game in four years.

He missed the playoffs two of those four years.
In his last two playoff losses, the Steelers gave up 93 points although turnovers played a big role in both losses. They lost to a Jacksonville team quarterbacked by Blake Bortles, 45-42, in 2017.

Tomlin didn’t appear to have his team ready to play either game and in the 2017 loss to the Jaguars, the perception was that they were looking past the Jaguars to an AFC title game duel against the Patriots.

Tomlin even said during the season that the elephant in the room was that they would be playing against the Patriots. It was a game they never got to play and it is never a good idea for a coach to publicly look ahead.

The bottom line is that even Tomlin likes to say the standard is the standard and not winning in the playoffs for four years in a row is not the standard for a team that has won six Super Bowls.

Still, Tomlin has never had a losing season in his 14 years as the Steeler coach and his winning percentage of .640 is better than any active coach except Bill Belichick.

And my colleague Clark Judge has written Tomlin should be in the conversation for a Hall of Fame berth.

Meanwhile, things aren’t going to get any easier for Tomlin the next four years.

Roethlisberger is near the end, and the team doesn’t have anyone waiting in the wings to replace him. The team appears to be something of a rebuilding mode.

Steelers owner Art Rooney II appears likely to stick with him as long as he continues to avoid having losing seasons. He knows that changing coaches can make things worse instead of better.

For the Steelers’ spoiled fan base, though, winning in the regular season is not the standard. They are looking for playoff victories and Super Bowl appearances.

Tomlin needs to show he can once again meet that standard.

Can revamped offensive line get Reid, Chiefs another ring?

Andy Reid is a member in good standing of the NFL’s 21st century coaching one and done club.

Since 2000, Bill Belichick has won six Super Bowls and Tom Coughlin won two.
No other coach has won more than one.

Reid has coached in three of them and lost two and was badly outcoached in both of the losses.

In last year’s Super Bowl loss to the Bucs, he didn’t adjust when he went into the game with a makeshift offensive line and Patrick Mahomes wound up running for his life.

That left Reid with a 17-15 playoff record in his 22-year coaching career. He still may get in the Hall of Fame. Bill Cowher made it with just one Super Bowl win. But like Cowher, he is not likely to be remembered as a Mt. Rushmore type coach unless he wins a couple more Super Bowls with Mahomes.

So is Reid going to get at least get a second Super Bowl victory or possibly even a third before he retires?

That is his challenge. And he has one thing going for him. He has Patrick Mahomes in his prime even though that doesn’t guarantee success.

Don Shula didn’t win a Super Bowl with John Unitas or Dan Marino although he won two and had a perfect season with Brian Griese. Sean Payton won one with Drew Brees. Tony Dungy won one with Peyton Manning.

But Reid and general manager Brett Veach made a major move recently to give Mahomes more protection when they traded for Orlando Brown of the Ravens. He will step into the left tackle spot vacated by Eric Fisher.

The Chiefs were fortunate Brown was on the market because the Ravens were already set at left tackle with Ronnie Stanley.

The only surprising thing is that the Ravens traded him to a team they will be trying to beat out for a Super Bowl spot.

It was probably their best offer, but it was a reasonable one for the Chiefs.

They gave up the 31st pick on the first round in return for the 58th pick on the second round so they moved down 27 spots and gave up a third and fourth round picks this year and a fifth round pick this year. The Chiefs also get a sixth round pick next year.

The Chiefs also shored up their line by signing guard Joe Thuney to a five-year, $80 million deal and luring former Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long out of retirement.

They also signed center Austin Blythe to a one-year deal and expect tackle Lucas Niang, who opted out last year, to return. They also think guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, a doctor who opted out last year to work with Covid patients, will return. They will have a much better line than the one that couldn’t block the Bucs in the Super Bowl.

So will this revamped line help Reid and Mahomes get their second Super Bowl victory and third appearance in a row this fall?

Stay tuned. This is one of the biggest questions about the upcoming season.

Belichick’s seat is getting warmer without Brady

It wasn’t exactly news when Patriots owner Bob Kraft said during the offseason that the team hasn’t drafted well in recent years.

There is no doubt that the team’s poor drafting – along with the departure of Tom Brady – played a major role in the Patriots missing the playoffs last year with a 7-9 record.

The New York Post a year ago rated the Patriots drafting the previous five years as 25th in the league and noted they were one of two teams to not draft a Pro Bowler in that span. It didn’t help that the Patriots twice didn’t have a first round pick and twice picked 32nd.

Still the fact that Kraft said it raised eyebrows. Kraft has always defended Bill Belichick the last two decades, mainly because he won six Super Bowls. He was in Belichick’s corner when the coach faced controversies including Deflategate and filming the opposing team’s signals. And when Belichick went nine years without winning a Super Bowl when Brady was in his prime.

Kraft also said, “I really hope, and I believe, I’ve seen a different approach this year.”

Kraft didn’t elaborate on what this different approach is and it is not in Belichick’s DNA to give any answers.

In his lone press conference of the offseason, Belichick only made the generic comment that the Patriots are always trying to do better.
He did list several staffers who are playing major roles in the draft, seemingly suggesting he is not a one-man band.

One theory is that the Patriots need a general manager because Belichick is spread too thin running the whole show.

In the past, Brady was the Great Eraser, rubbing out the Belichick mistakes by carrying the team. One theory is that he left because he didn’t feel he had a good enough supporting cast. He found one in Tampa and won his seventh Super Bowl.

Whatever the problem is, Belichick will be under the microscope this year. Nobody expects him to win another Super Bowl but missing the playoffs a second year in a row would raise more questions about whether Belichick can turn this team around and what Kraft will do if he doesn’t.

Belichick did make a major plunge in free agency, spending $56.25 million in guaranteed money to bring in the top two tight ends on the market in Jonnu Smith and Henry Hunter. That is $5.25 million more in guaranteed money than he spent the last three years. That will give the quarterback two new targets.

What Belichick will do at quarterback in the draft is another big question. He’s got the 15th pick. Does he trade up to draft one on the first round? Does he draft one at 15 or not draft one on the first round, which he has never done in 26 years running the drafts with Cleveland and the Patriots.

For now, the quarterback is Cam Newton, who went 7-8 last year with eight touchdown passes and 10 picks. But he didn’t join the team until July and had to deal with a bout of Covid. Will he play better this year with a year in the system under his belt? We’ll see.

The only certain thing is that this will be a pivotal year for Belichick. Complicating the situation is the fact the AFC East is no longer a punching bag. The Patriots went 1-3 against the Bills and Dolphins last year. For years, winning the division was virtually guaranteed.

All this helps explain why Belichick needs to have a good draft if the Patriots are to be playoff worthy. He no longer has the Great Eraser to wipe out his mistakes. And he has an owner willing to publicly note his drafting record in recent years.

Times have changed for Belichick and we’ll see if he can adjust.