NFL Insider Notebook
In today’s notebook we discuss the changes in the Bears front office, the new hot market for Packers quarterback Matt Flynn, the underrated great season of Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and San Diego’s decision to keep both Norv Turner and A.J. Smith.
Changes In Chicago
After a 7-3 start, the Chicago Bears season was harpooned by a thumb injury to quarterback Jay Cutler. Chicago won just once more and the fallout from the disappointing season has begun. The Bears parted ways with general manager Jerry Angelo and offensive coordinator Mike Martz has stepped down.
“It was almost 11 years ago that I hired Jerry Angelo as our general manager. I was proud of that decision then, and I think Jerry achieved a lot as our general manager in the last 10-plus seasons,” Bears president Ted Phillips said. “On a personal level, I knew him very well. He’s a wonderful man, high character. I’ve enjoyed every day working with him. I’m gonna miss him. But at the same time, we need more. The decision was made that we need to keep up the pace with our division rivals.”
Angelo’s dismissal shouldn’t come as a major shock as he struggled mightily in the draft. Aside from Matt Forte, none of Angelo’s picks have been anything more than mediocre and Chicago hasn’t had a legitimate wide receiver seemingly since the days of Willie Gault.
While Chicago won the NFC North in 2010, they haven’t had consecutive playoff appearances since 2005-2006. The final straws for Angelo may have been the perennial loser Detroit Lions passing them by as well as the decision to sign Sam Hurd who was apparently one of Chicago’s biggest drug kingpin’s.
Potentially Hot Market for Flynn
Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn received an opportunity to turn some heads entering free agency and made the most of it. With home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs already secured, the Packers decided to rest Aaron Rodgers in their season finale and opted to start Flynn.
Flynn made the most of his opportunity.
Playing with most of Aaron Rodgers toys, Matt Flynn did his best Rodgers impersonation as he set Packers franchise records by throwing for 480 yards and six touchdowns in the team’s 45-41 victory over Detroit.
“Just think of all of the great quarterbacks that have come through here,” Flynn said. “It’s very humbling. I just thank everybody around me and everything. I couldn’t have done it, obviously, by myself. There’s weapons all around me, and the line did a great job. It’s one of those games where it got to a shootout, and we just kept having to match each other.”
Assuming Aaron Rodgers stays healthy, Flynn’s final showing before hitting free agency will be that record-setting performance. With there being just two quarterbacks likely taken in the top five or ten picks in the draft, there will be teams interested in a young signal caller who has experience running an NFL offense.
The obvious candidates who are rumored to be interested in Flynn’s services are the Cleveland Browns, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins. It’s possible that one of the three could select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, but the other two will likely be in the market for an upgrade at the position.
The real question is what kind of quarterback will Matt Flynn be when defenses will have a full week to prepare for him and there is more of him on tape? Skeptics will point to his seventh-round draft pedigree (or lack thereof) and average to below-average arm. Although Flynn looked more like Aaron Rodgers than even Rodgers did, recent history tells us he will be more like Matt Cassel or Kevin Kolb.
For a franchise like the Browns, Seahawks or Redskins with no legitimate answer at the position, it’s probably worth it to find out what type of player Matt Flynn can be with more reps.
Record Setting Season by MJD
There wasn’t much for the Jaguars offense to be proud of in 2011 as they finished dead last in yards per game and passing, and finished 28th in scoring offense. The one thing they can hang their hats on was the running of Maurice Jones-Drew, who not only became the team’s first rushing champion but set a new franchise record with 1,606 yards on the ground.
“It’s easy to take all of the credit, but those guys did a heck of a job blocking two or three guys, running down the field to get extra blocks and making it easier on me,” Jones-Drew said.
Although Jones-Drew’s season will be but a footnote in NFL history it may have been the best performance from a running back ever. Coming off knee surgery, Jones-Drew didn’t participate in most of the Jaguars training camp for precautionary measures. Although questions about his health were abundant, the Jaguars back was the teams primary workhorse from the season opener on.
“I’m not worried about those people, they don’t know what they’re talking about half the time anyways,” Jones-Drew said when asked about his doubters. “I’m more proud of the guys I battle with.”
Although his 1,606 yard campaign ranks as the 48th most in a season in NFL history, no other rusher had to deal with a completely inept passing game. Not only did the Jaguars finish dead-last in passing, they were last by more than 250 yards. Opposing defenses routinely put eight or more men in the box when playing Jacksonville, and Jones-Drew still kept running.
“We’ve been saying this week after week, but no one has seen the things we’ve seen this year- 10 man boxes, eight or nine-man boxes. And for us to continue to run like that and when I say we, we won the rushing title with I think over 200 more yards than anyone else, and we’ve been healthy.”
It’s unrealistic to believe that anyone on a 5-11 team could be the league MVP, but nobody has played significantly in 2011 than Maurice Jones-Drew. Once again, Jones-Drew has silenced his doubters and has re-written the Jaguars history books with having seemingly every odd stacked against him.
One More Year of Norv and A.J.
If nuclear war ever breaks out, the only thing that will survive is cockroaches and San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner. Chargers owner Dean Spanos has decided to bring back the head coach of one of the league’s biggest disappointments as well as the man that procured the roster, general manager A.J. Smith.
“Obviously, I’m very sensitive to what the fans have to say,” Spanos said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that I can talk until I’m blue in the face that this is the right thing to do. But until we go out and win and change the course of where this team has been heading, get back into the playoffs and make a serious run for the Super Bowl, anything short of that isn’t going to change their minds. We have to go out there next year and win.”
In the three seasons prior to Turner taking over the Chargers went 35-13 (.729 winning percentage) under Marty Schottenheimer. Schottenheimer was fired after the 2006 season when he went 14-2. In the five seasons since Turner has taken over the team has a 48-31 record (.608 winning percentage) with two consecutive non-playoff appearances.
“I would expect we’d have to make the playoffs” to stay employed, Turner said. “If we manage things right and have some good fortune, I imagine we will.”
The Chargers play in arguably the worst division in football where the 8-8 Denver Broncos are reigning champions. If Turner and Smith can’t make the playoffs for a third consecutive year with Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers not only do they not deserve to keep their jobs, they shouldn’t get jobs anywhere else.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for ESPNFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie