Steelers request interview with Saints secondary coach Kris Richard

Steelers request interview with Saints secondary coach Kris Richard

Well that’s distressing. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Monday evening that the Pittsburgh Steelers requested an interview with New Orleans Saints secondary coach Kris Richard concerning their vacant defensive coordinator position — a post Richard has held before with the Seattle Seahawks, prior to his successful run with the Dallas Cowboys as their defensive passing game coordinator.

Richard took the 2020 NFL season off and joined New Orleans last year to replace Aaron Glenn, who followed Dan Campbell to become the Detroit Lions defensive coordinator. If Richard interviews well and gets this job, it would mean a third secondary coach in as many years for the Saints. Obviously that’s not where you want to be with young starters like Paulson Adebo developing on the back end.

Hopefully the Saints can find a way to retain Richard, just as they worked out a compromise with coveted defensive line coach Ryan Nielsen last summer. He’s been a big part of their recent success and they’ll need all the quality assistants they can get with Dennis Allen interviewing for the Chicago Bears head coach job and Sean Payton mulling retirement. Continuity is key for good teams in the NFL.

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Bears head coach search adds Saints DC Dennis Allen to list of candidates

Bears head coach search adds Saints DC Dennis Allen to list of candidates

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There we go: NewOrleans.Football’s Nick Underhill first reported that the Chicago Bears have scheduled an interview with Dennis Allen for their vacant head coaching job next week, adding the New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator to their list of candidates.

Allen has put together some outstanding defenses with the Saints in recent years and it was only a matter of time until he started getting more looks as a potential head coach. Here’s what I wrote of him earlier this offseason in previewing potential Saints losses on the coaching staff and front office:

“Allen, 49, interviewed for the open Miami Dolphins job in 2019 and the vacant Philadelphia Eagles position in 2020, and he has only seen his star rise higher since then. His defense was among the NFL’s best this season and he should draw more attention in the days and weeks ahead. His three-year run as the then-Oakland Raiders head coach didn’t go well (his Raiders teams went 8-28, and Allen was dismissed four games into his third season) but he’s obviously learned a lot from the experience and from returning to Sean Payton’s staff in New Orleans.”

Losing Allen would hurt, but Payton has assembled a strong group and could take the hit, depending on who leaves with him. Secondary coach Kris Richard has worked as a defensive play caller before, and defensive line/assistant head coach Ryan Nielsen seems poised to get another promotion sooner or later.

And while we’re really putting the cart before the horse here, let’s remember that one of Payton’s closest friends (and an old coworker on Bill Parcells’ Dallas Cowboys staff) is a free agent: former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, whose current NFL future is up in the air.

Interestingly, the Bears also interviewed Saints college scouting director/assistant general manager Jeff Ireland for their open G.M. position. It’s possible he and Allen could end up being a package deal in Chicago, though it’s worth noting Ireland has not received a second interview like other candidates.

As for Allen: he’s facing an uphill battle entering this late in the process. The Bears have already scheduled a second interview with Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, one of seven head coach candidates to already speak with Chicago about the job. He’ll have to make a strong impression when he meets with team brass next week.

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Saints re-sign WR Jalen McCleskey to reserve/future contract

Saints re-sign WR Jalen McCleskey to reserve/future contract, try out several CFL free agents:

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A familiar name is getting another shot with the New Orleans Saints. The team reported a reserve/future contract with free agent wide receiver Jalen McCleskey on Tuesday’s update to the daily NFL transactions wire, meaning he’ll count towards their 90-man roster for 2022 after Super Bowl XLVI in a few weeks just like the small crowd of practice squad players the team retained once their 2021 season ended.

McCleskey signed with the Saints last summer following rookie minicamps and made a quick impression in training camp with his rare speed. He put his 4.3-second time in the 40-yard dash to good use in college at Oklahoma State and Tulane, but a hamstring injury sidelined him for much of the 2021 season. Despite trying out for the Saints in November, he’s remained a free agent waiting for his next opportunity.

Now he’s joining the depth chart for 2022 along with Michael Thomas, Marquez Callaway, Easop Winston Jr., Kevin White, and 2021 draft pick Kawaan Baker. Saints free agents at wide receiver include Deonte Harty and Lil’Jordan Humphrey (both restricted), as well as Tre’Quan Smith, Ty Montgomery, and Kenny Stills (all unrestricted). Expect more additions in the months ahead.

The team has been busy evaluating free agents from the CFL like tight end Nikola Kalinic and offensive linemen Drew Desjarlais and Jordan Murray, as well as former North Carolina Central basketball forward-turned-tight end Jibri Blount. They’re all eligible to sign reserve/future contracts for 2022, though none of have been inked just yet.

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Why isn’t the NFL holding NFCCG no-call officials to others’ standard?

The NFL took quick action after Saturday’s Bengals-Raiders fiasco. Why haven’t Bill Vinovich and the 2018 NFCCG no-call crew faced the same accountability?

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The NFL acted quickly to discipline referee Jerome Boger and his crew for their sloppy work in Saturday’s wild-card round playoff game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Las Vegas Raiders, with ESPN’s Adam Schefter reporting that the league pulled them from consideration in working any more postseason games this year.

Boger’s crew threw a combined 14 flags for 102 penalty yards between the two teams, and erroneously blew a quick whistle on an early Joe Burrow touchdown pass that gave Cincinnati a 20-13 halftime lead. They held on to win 26-19.

It’s bizarre to see the NFL step in like this after their inaction towards referee Bill Vinovich and the crew that worked the 2018 NFC championship game, in which an uncalled pass interference foul against the Los Angeles Rams helped cost the New Orleans Saints a Super Bowl berth. One of the four officials involved with that fiasco, down judge Patrick Turner, is set to work Sunday’s game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Vinovich went on to work the 2019 Super Bowl and 2020 AFC championship game, as well as a 2019 divisional round matchup. Turner, Vinovich, side judge Gary Cavaletto, and back judge Todd Prukop have each been listed as alternates for various playoff games since the incident. But none of them have faced so much as a slap on the wrist after choosing to not foul Rams corner Nickell Robey-Coleman; if anything, Vinovich has been thrown a bone by not being assigned any games in New Orleans (something for which is family is grateful).

So what gives? Is the league office in New York just making an example out of Boger and his crew? Schefter’s report adds that the NFL is considering whether to reevaluate their “all-star” crews for the postseason, which is something Saints coach Sean Payton has been advocating for years. Maybe wiping Burrow’s touchdown pass off the board would have given them a slimmer margin of victory over the Raiders than they enjoyed anyway, but it’s not like this was a high-stakes situation two minutes away from a Super Bowl.

Maybe it’s part of a larger pattern of problems from Boger, who brought his own problems to New Orleans earlier this season. Or it could be as simple as any other double standard you’ll find around the NFL. That’s become unfortunately commonplace in a billion-dollar organization managed like a neighborhood lemonade stand.

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J.T. Gray named first-team All-Pro, Demario Davis earns second-team recognition

J.T. Gray named first-team All-Pro, Demario Davis earns second-team recognition

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It’s great to see someone enjoy the rewards of hard work. New Orleans Saints special teams ace J.T. Gray was honored on the All-Pro first team list from the Associated Press for his efforts during the 2021 season, having paced the team with 19 tackles in the kicking game — the best of his career. Gray was selected for the All-Pro second team in 2019, when he also got into the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Now he’s made the cut for both all-star lists outright.

And he’s taken a hard road to get here. Originally signed by New Orleans as an undrafted free agent out of Mississippi State, Gray outworked some players who were drafted to make the opening-day roster in 2018. He’s since been voted a team captain and has begun to rack up postseason accolades like this All-Pro placement, with the 18 votes in his favor leading his position group. Good for him.

Additionally, Saints linebacker Demario Davis was listed on the All-Pro second team (receiving 10 votes), ranking behind Micah Parsons (46), Darius Leonard (44), and De’Vondre Campbell (18), tying with Roquan Smith (10). Two other Saints players received All-Pro votes this year, both defenders: free safety Marcus Williams (3) and cornerback Marshon Lattimore (1).

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Jeff Ireland schedules interview for Bears general manager opening

Jeff Ireland schedules interview for Bears general manager opening

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Here we go: NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Thursday that the Chicago Bears will interview Jeff Ireland on Friday for their open general manager job. Ireland, the New Orleans Saints assistant general manager and college scouting director, has been a huge part of the team’s success in recent years.

But this wouldn’t happen if the Saints weren’t comfortable letting Ireland go. They could have reorganized their front office to give Ireland the G.M. title he wants, boosting Mickey Loomis to a higher executive status, but the team obviously envisions a future without Ireland guiding their draft process.

So who could they have in mind to replace him? Maybe Ryan Pace, the fired Bears general manager Ireland could be replacing, who got his start in New Orleans. Pace worked as a pro-level scout before being promoted to director of player personnel, making him Ireland’s predecessor in some respects. But that would be a step back given how well the Saints have been drafting lately, and how poorly Pace’s Bears run turned out.

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Blake Bortles, Kevin White the latest to sign Saints reserve/future deals

The New Orleans Saints signed six more players to reserve/future deals, including Blake Bortles and Kevin White:

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Another wave of New Orleans Saints players signed reserve/future contracts with the team, which means they’ll avoid free agency and count towards the 90-man offseason roster limit once the new league year begins in March. And as was the case for the eight initial reserve/future signees, they’re all returning from New Orleans’ practice squad. Here’s who is coming back for another shot in 2022:

Bears request interview with Saints assistant GM Jeff Ireland

Bears request interview with Saints assistant general manager Jeff Ireland:

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So it begins. ESPN’s Adam Schefter first reported Tuesday that the Chicago Bears requested an interview with Jeff Ireland for their open general manager job, which was confirmed by Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, Pro Football Focus’ Doug Kyed, and NewOrleans.Football’s Nick Underhill. Ireland has been a huge part of the New Orleans Saints’ resurgence since his hire in 2015, climbing the organizational ladder to earn a promotion as assistant general manager/director of college scouting.

So losing him would be a big deal. But it was inevitable that other teams would come sniffing around; Ireland’s been the architect of some outstanding draft classes for New Orleans, particularly the 2017 haul that brought Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Williams, and Alvin Kamara to New Orleans.

All three of the other picks from that class are starting for other teams across the NFL (Alex Anzalone with the Detroit Lions, Trey Hendrickson with the Cincinnati Bengals, and Al-Quadin Muhammad with the Indianapolis Colts).

Even if his stint as Miami Dolphins general manager ended terribly, Ireland remains a respected evaluator around the league. Last year he interviewed for general manager openings with the Lions and Carolina Panthers, but was passed over. Now he may get another shot. Stay tuned as the situation develops.

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Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Davenport active for Saints in Week 18; full inactive list vs. Falcons

Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Davenport active for Saints in Week 18; full inactive list vs. Falcons:

All-Pro right tackle Ryan Ramczyk and starting defensive end Marcus Davenport were both active for the New Orleans Saints in Week 18, but running back Mark Ingram II joined left tackle Terron Armstead on the inactive list against the Atlanta Falcons due to injuries, as did a few other players. Here’s the full inactive list from each team:

Saints announce Week 18 uniform combination vs. Falcons

Saints announce Week 18 uniform combination vs. Falcons

The New Orleans Saints announced their uniform combination for Week 18’s game against the Atlanta Falcons: white jerseys and gold pants. So be sure to dress accordingly if you’re making the trip to Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

These gold pants have been controversial among fans and players, owing to the light color shading resembling khaki better than gold. And they were shelved altogether for a few years after Drew Brees suffered an injury to his throwing hand in Week 2 of 2019 against the Los Angeles rams — while wearing gold pants. Team captains vote weekly on each game’s uniform combo, and it took a while for any superstition around the gold pants to fade.

For the curious, here is the winning percentage the Saints have achieved in each of the different uniform combos they’ve worn during the Sean Payton era, dating back to 2006 (including the playoffs):

  1. White jerseys, white pants: 8-3 (.727)
  2. Black and Gold throwbacks: 2-1 (.667)
  3. Color Rush alternates: 9-5 (.643)
  4. Black jerseys, gold pants: 24-14 (.632)
  5. White jerseys, black pants: 42-26 (6.18)
  6. White jerseys, gold pants: 35-24 (.593)
  7. Black jerseys, black pants: 46-33 (.582)

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