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FRISCO, Texas — To hear owner Jerry Jones tell it, coach Jason Garrett does not need to worry about his future. He is not on any kind of hot seat in 2018 after the Dallas Cowboys finished a disappointing 9-7 and missed the playoffs.

Jones has been patient with Garrett, even letting him get to the final year of his contract in 2014. Garrett answered that challenge with a 12-4 record, thanks to quarterback Tony Romo’s best season, and was rewarded with a five-year, $30 million deal.

If the Cowboys miss the playoffs in 2018, would Jones give Garrett a ninth season as head coach?

Using the seven head-coaching changes from 2017 into 2018 as a guide, what could the Cowboys be looking at if Jones makes a change?

The big name

The Oakland Raiders lured Jon Gruden out of the Monday Night Football booth with what was reportedly a $100 million contract. He last coached in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008 but remained close to the game during his time at ESPN.

Bill Cowher last coached in 2006 and has been on CBS’ pregame show ever since. His name has been tied to jobs even though he has professed he is done coaching. Could he be lured to the “big room,” as Bill Parcells called the Cowboys’ job in 2003?

What about Sean Payton? Yes, he is the New Orleans Saints‘ coach, but Jones has long been a fan and there have always been rumblings of a reunion. Payton took the Saints back to the playoffs in 2017, but he has been in New Orleans a long time.

Bob Stoops? Jim Harbaugh? Never underestimate the pull of the star.

The Belichick guy

Matt Patricia is now the Detroit Lions coach. Josh McDaniels was supposed to be the Indianapolis Colts coach.

Bill Belichick’s run of success with the New England Patriots has made his assistant coaches hot names. Charlie Weis, Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel left New England for lucrative head-coaching jobs. Now Patricia has a chance.

McDaniels might be too hot to touch with his handling of the Colts’ debacle, but would Jones care? No. He would want a coach who can help Dak Prescott the most. McDaniels is at the top of the list of playcallers in the NFL.

The former player

Mike Vrabel could be considered a Belichick guy as well, considering he played for so many years with the Patriots. His ascension from player to Ohio State assistant, Houston Texans defensive coordinator to Titans coach has been quick.

Dan Campbell was named Miami Dolphins coach after Joe Filbin was fired after four games in 2015. Campbell went 5-7 but brought a toughness to the Dolphins after he was named interim head coach four-plus seasons after he finished his playing career. Now the Saints assistant head coach, Campbell played three seasons with the Cowboys (2003-05), becoming something of a Parcells’ guy over the years. He also learned a high-powered offense under Payton and knows the Cowboys’ process.

The defensive coordinator

Steve Wilks had a one-year run as defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, but he earned praise through the years as a position coach.

Kris Richard had interest from teams as a head coach when he was coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks. He will be under Jones’ nose in 2018 as the Cowboys’ passing game coordinator and secondary coach. Jones has also seen what Jim Schwartz has done as the Philadelphia Eagles coordinator the past two seasons.

The offensive coordinator

Frank Reich got the job in Indianapolis after the McDaniels fiasco but his work with Nick Foles in helping the Eagles to Super Bowl LII should not lead folks to believe he was some kind of backup candidate.

If the Cowboys can’t get Payton, then maybe they would look at his offensive coordinator, Pete Carmichael. He has been with Drew Brees since their time together with the San Diego Chargers. Payton has had Carmichael call plays and has relied on him greatly over the years. Carmichael has interviewed for head coaching jobs in the past (Oakland).

The redemption guy

Pat Shurmur went 9-23 in two seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Looking back, maybe he did a better job than anybody could have expected, since the Browns have one win over the past two years. The New York Giants hired Shurmur to take over for Ben McAdoo after their 2017 season fell apart and are banking on him being much better the second time around.

Campbell and Schwartz can fall into this category, but John Fox has a long friendship with Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones. This would be his fourth chance, not second, but he took the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos to the Super Bowl before a poor showing with the Chicago Bears.

Jack Del Rio, a former Cowboy, took Oakland to the playoffs in 2016 for the first time since 2002 but lost his gig when Gruden opted to return. Twice he took the Jacksonville Jaguars to the playoffs.

The out-of-nowhere guy

Nobody would have said Matt Nagy would be a head coaching candidate prior to the 2017 season but he did well as the Kansas City Chiefs playcaller after Andy Reid gave up the duties in-season. The Bears are hoping Matt Nagy can be the next Doug Pederson, who was also groomed by Reid.

Nobody expected much from Sean McVay when the Los Angeles Rams named him coach. He was 30 when he was hired and ended up being the NFL’s coach of the year in 2017.

Matt LaFleur is Vrabel’s new offensive coordinator in Tennessee. He was with the Rams last season under McVay. He also spent time with Mike and Kyle Shanahan. He’s 38 years old. New England linebackers coach Brian Flores interviewed for the Arizona Cardinals job and many across the league have raved about his future ability as a head coach.

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Can Colts stem the tide if Carson Wentz, Quenton Nelson miss games? – Indianapolis Colts Blog

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WESTFIELD, Ind. – One of the Indianapolis Colts’ strongest attributes on either side of the ball is their offensive line, which is supposed to be a factor in helping quarterback Carson Wentz rebound from a disappointing 2020 season and help Indianapolis get back to the playoffs for the second straight season.

That’ll be tough to do when three of the five starting offensive linemen are out dealing with injuries, as is Wentz.

Wentz and guard Quenton Nelson joined center Ryan Kelly (elbow) and left tackle Eric Fisher (Achilles) out of action. Wentz and Nelson have basically the same foot injury that will keep them sidelined anywhere between five to 12 weeks.

There’s never a good time for injuries. And it’s really not a good time when four of the first five games are against teams that made the playoffs last season and with all five of those teams expected to push for a playoff spot this season.

Winning games over the Seahawks, Rams, Titans, Dolphins and Ravens would be tough with a healthy roster. It could end up being a brutal stretch for the Colts if those players aren’t back yet. And the reality is, there’s a chance they won’t be.

Kelly is out for a couple of weeks with his elbow injury, and there’s a chance Fisher will miss the start of the regular season while he continues to rehab from the torn Achilles he suffered last winter. The Colts, based off talks with medical officials, cast a broad net on the return timetable of Wentz and Nelson because all players recover differently.

“We were talking about it as a staff, we were talking about it individually — this is a great opportunity for our guys, for us to build depth on our team,” coach Frank Reich said. “We talk about it all the time, it’s the course of a season, so we have a good chance to evaluate all of those guys who can step in, and there is a handful of them. That’s what we’re in the process of doing, and we’ll be hopeful that [Nelson] will be back for Week 1. We don’t know, but that’s what our hope is.”

Per Caesars Sportsbook, the odds for the Colts to win the Super Bowl (25-1, 35-1), AFC (13-1, 16-1) and AFC South (-110, +170) all fell following the announcement of Wentz’s prognosis by Reich on Monday afternoon.

A lot can change over the next five weeks before the Colts host Seattle in Week 1. The Colts haven’t opened the season with a victory since 2013. But playing worst-case scenario, if Wentz, Nelson and Fisher are still out at the start of the season, the Colts potentially could struggle running the ball without their starting left guard and left tackle, and their quarterback to keep the defense honest with his arm.

The Colts’ defensive line has been having its way against the beat-up offensive line in recent days in training camp. Imagine what Seattle and Tennessee coaches Pete Carroll and Mike Vrabel can scheme to do against the Colts. Or the havoc Rams All-Pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald is going to cause up the middle. And to make matters worse, three of the first five games are on the road for the Colts.

The Colts may need to lean more heavily on Matt Eberflus’ defense — which ranked eighth in yards allowed last season and second against the run — to keep them in games until those key players return.

Reich keeps a narrow thought process on what lies ahead. That’s why he had a long post-practice talk with his team, where he spoke with a lot of passion. The Colts started the 2018 season 1-5 and finished with a 10-6 record and a spot in the playoffs.

“I’ve been a part of some really great teams who lost great players, and it takes all of us and you to overcome it as a team, and I believe whatever card we’re dealt; however it plays out, we’ll be just fine,” Reich said.

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Philip Rivers says he’s ‘staying ready,’ won’t close door on possible NFL return

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Months after he announced his retirement from the NFL, former quarterback Philip Rivers says he isn’t ruling out a return.

Rivers, who retired in January after one season with the Indianapolis Colts following 16 with the San Diego and Los Angeles Chargers, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday that he is staying in shape in case a situation presents itself for a late-season stint in the NFL.

“I’m not quite there,” Rivers, 39, told the LA Times. “I’m getting back there. I wouldn’t have made weight if I had to report last week, that’s for sure. But I am getting back into the lifting and running, and shoot, I occasionally throw a ball around out here in this heat. It’s not too hard to get a good lather going.

“I’m just going to stay ready. I want to make sure I’m very clear: I’m not predicting I will play in December or January, for that matter. One, you’ve got to have somebody who wants you, and two, it’s got to be right.

“But I have not completely ruled that out.”

Rivers, a five-time Pro Bowler who ranks fifth in NFL history with 63,440 passing yards, led the Colts to the playoffs last season, throwing for 4,169 yards and 24 touchdowns. Indianapolis lost to Buffalo in an AFC wild-card game.

The Colts announced Monday that quarterback Carson Wentz will have surgery on his injured left foot and be out five to 12 weeks.

Rivers currently is in his first year as head football coach of St. Michael Catholic High School in Alabama. According to maxpreps.com, the team’s final regular-season game is scheduled for Oct. 29, two days before the Colts’ Week 8 home game against the Tennessee Titans.

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Minnesota Vikings co-owner Mark Wilf is concerned over players’ vaccine hesitancy; three QBs on the COVID-19 reserve list

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EAGAN, Minn. — While the Minnesota Vikings continue navigating a recent COVID-19 interruption within the quarterback room, team co-owner Mark Wilf expressed concern over vaccine hesitancy among players.

“We’re very concerned,” Wilf said. “I think it’s safe to say that our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our players, our coaches, our staff and, ultimately, the entire community. From that standpoint, we really are encouraging people to take the vaccines, to get vaccinated.

“We’re proud of the fact that we’ve partnered with the State of Minnesota to have our facility here used as a vaccination center in the offseason. We just want everybody to follow the protocols. We’re trying to educate everyone in the organization, the team, to make sure and get the vaccinations. Of course with the delta variant and other new permutations going on, we just want to make sure to preserve the health and safety. That’s the standpoint that we come from as ownership and as an organization.”

The Vikings are without quarterbacks Kellen Mond, who tested positive for COVID-19 last weekend, Kirk Cousins and Nate Stanley — the latter two were deemed high-risk close contacts and required to self-isolate for a minimum of five days. All three QBs and wide receiver Myron Mitchell were placed on the COVID-19/reserve list.

According to the NFL/NFLPA protocols, a player with the “high-risk close contact” classification designates that they are not vaccinated. Coach Mike Zimmer has been outspoken about his frustration with players who are refusing to get vaccinated and foreshadowed the stark reality the Vikings are “going to have guys miss some games, and we have to be prepared for it.”

“I talked to the team and, like I said before, there are quite a few guys that are just against it,” Zimmer said on Monday. “I’m not going to be able to change their mind, so, it’s like half the country, I guess.”

The Vikings’ vaccine hesitancy is reflected in vaccination efforts leaguewide. According to a report from The Washington Post, the Vikings have the lowest vaccination rate in the NFL, with 64.5% of players fully vaccinated and 70% in process (with at least one shot). The Washington Football Team has dealt with similar interruptions during training camp, with six players currently on the COVID-19/reserve list, but saw its vaccination rate escalate 24% in one week from 60% to 84% of its players being at least partially vaccinated, according to the report.

The NFL announced Tuesday that 90% of players across the league are either fully vaccinated or have had at least one shot. Nine teams are above 95%, and 27 teams have reached the 85% threshold.

The competitive advantage that teams with higher vaccination rates could have this season is not lost on Vikings players, coaches and ownership. On his All Things Covered podcast, cornerback Patrick Peterson noted the importance of getting vaccinated so he doesn’t put himself at risk of missing games thanks to COVID-19 protocols.

“I feel like I’m too important to this team not to get vaccinated, not miss an important game and now we possibly lose that game, and that could be the game that we needed to get into the playoffs,” Peterson said.

Wilf noted the potential for low vaccination rates to lead to a competitive disadvantage and praised Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman for the way they’ve approached the situation in Minnesota.

“The competitive side is of course concerning but, again, our focus is on health and safety,” Wilf said. “We care about the players and the team and, from that standpoint, they happen to be aligned. But the fact is, we’re encouraging vaccinations. We’re talking about a serious health pandemic, and it’s something we want to make sure that our players, our staff, our coaches, that they’re fully informed of what’s involved here. From that standpoint, I think the way Coach Zimmer and Rick Spielman and the entire football team has handled this is the right way — in terms of making sure we provide the resources, as ownership, that everyone is educated and has the opportunity to understand all the facts.”

The Vikings signed quarterbacks Case Cookus and Danny Etling on Monday after Jake Browning was Minnesota’s only quarterback available following the COVID-19 interruption. Browning is vaccinated.

Zimmer said Monday that he did not know when Mond, Cousins or Stanley would be available to return. Because Mond tested positive, his return is subject to different protocols.

According to NFL/NFLPA guidelines, a player on the COVID-19/reserve list who tests positive and is asymptomatic can return to practice 10 days after showing symptoms, or five days after initially testing positive, with two consecutive negative tests separated by 24 hours within a five-day period. Symptomatic players can return 10 days after first testing positive and at least 72 hours after their last symptoms occurred.

“It is a tough circumstance for [Mond],” offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak said. “We’ll make the best of it, keep challenging him in our virtual meetings. He’s done a great job with that, staying prepared. Mainly, I just want to make sure he’s OK. He’s got COVID — he’s sick. We’ve got to get him healthy first. But when he gets back, we’ll get him back physically. In the meantime, we can stress him mentally and make it hard for him so that it’s just all physical when he gets back.”

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