'The Big Show' coming to Cleveland?
Browns pursuing Holmgren; Seahawks torn on prospect of return engagement
Sometimes the boss has a hard time getting back into his office, and that might be the story brewing in Seattle with Mike Holmgren.
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Holmgren is having extensive meetings with Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner about becoming the team's head of football operations. In the meantime, the Seahawks are planning their search to replace general manager Tim Ruskell. Holmgren wants the Seahawks' job. I'm starting to get the feeling he's not going to get it, even though he's clearly the best choice.
It's often been said in the business world that bosses who take over losing operations aren't hired to make friends in old buildings. Holmgren turned the Seahawks into a winner during his days as a coach and general manager. The excitement and confidence generated from his teams turned Qwest Field into one of the NFL's loudest home stadiums. Players called Holmgren "The Big Show.'' It was a show that delivered.
Rehiring Holmgren as just the general manager seems to be a no-brainer, but there is a small, powerful contingent in the Seahawks' organization looking for a new leader, and it might block Holmgren's chances. In Cleveland, Holmgren can change the culture of that franchise. Sure, he made mistakes as a coach/GM with the Seahawks, but he also assembled a core group of players who went to a Super Bowl.
Unless Lerner doesn't give Holmgren the ability to revamp the football operations, "The Big Show'' could be hired in Cleveland as early as Christmas or as late as New Year's Day. I'm not sold the Seahawks are going to be ready to reach out to him and bring him back by then.
You can't say the Seahawks won't find a good general manager in their search, but Holmgren is clearly a sure thing. He has produced winners in Green Bay and Seattle. The boss is ready to report back to work after a year off, but the change of address labels might be needed for a new Cleveland location.
As for current Browns coach Eric Mangini, a Holmgren hiring would mean a one-and-done for Mangini in Cleveland.
From the inbox
Q: Shortly after the Eagles signed Andy Reid to a big contract extension, someone said that it was a good move because they have a talented young team with all of the pieces in place to be perennial Super Bowl contenders. How similar is that to the situation in New Orleans? My Saints seem to have big-time players at key positions and they have a lot of young talented depth. Can the fans in New Orleans expect more years like this one?
Will in New Orleans
A: A 16-0 season is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, if that happens. But the Saints clearly will be contenders like the Eagles because they have a lot of the same assets. First, the Saints have a great quarterback, Drew Brees, who is 30 and getting better each season. Like the Eagles, the Saints have the right coach, Sean Payton. Few talk about the Saints' offensive line, but it's a good one. The Eagles also stress having a good offensive line. Both the Eagles and Saints are strong along the defensive line.
To Nelson in Bellport, N.Y., the more I watch Chad Henne, the more I like him. If he can get the Dolphins to the playoffs, that sets up well for the future. He was supposed to be Miami's quarterback in 2010. Being able to produce and be successful this early is a good sign. Art in Ostrander, Ohio, accepts that the NFL is offensive-minded and wants a lot of yards and points, but he believes that philosophy handicaps the defense too much. He talks to a lot of people who say a good defense doesn't mean much anymore. Welcome to 2009 football. You need a good defense to make the playoffs, but you need a top quarterback to be able to advance in the playoffs. Joey in Nampa, Idaho, asks about the two wild-card spots in the AFC. Since beating the Giants on Thanksgiving, Denver has had the inside track on the No. 5 seed. However, if the Ravens can beat Pittsburgh in Week 16, I think they will get to 10-6 and get the No. 5 seed because they beat Denver. Both teams have a great chance to make the playoffs. Mike in Washington, D.C., you are correct in forecasting the Redskins and Dan Snyder to go for a young quarterback. They should stabilize the offensive line before getting a quarterback, but Snyder wants a signal-caller. He'll get the quarterback first. Brian in Myrtle Beach, S.C., is already looking ahead to free agency for the Packers. They have to make sure they lock up Ryan Pickett, and they need another year or two from Chad Clifton. Loyal follower Chuck in New Orleans has picked up on my stance that the league will expand to 18 regular-season games in the future. He thinks it's insane. Revenue-hungry owners want 18 games and that's what they will get. More games create better ways to keep the sport funded, like it or not. I'm for 18 if it prevents the uncapped year and promotes long-term labor peace. Darren in Leavenworth, Kan., is a long-suffering Raiders fan and wonders if JaMarcus Russell has a chance to succeed in Oakland. No one sees that happening, except for maybe Al Davis, but perhaps Davis is starting to hedge his bets with the signing of J.P. Losman. Shane in Frederick, Md., asks what the Ravens will do about upgrading their receiving corps during the offseason. They have to find one or two receivers. I heard some people talking about the Ravens' potentially signing Terrell Owens. I say no way.
Q: I've heard rumors that Gary Kubiak might retain his job because the Texans are closer than it seems to a future playoff appearance. If they do keep him, what steps do you think Houston should take to keep the team moving forward? Could something as simple as a change at running backs coach help them out?
Alex in Austin, Texas
A: The Texans are close, but I thought the four-game losing streak in the division could cost Kubiak his job, particularly with Mike Shanahan and Bill Cowher available. As long as the Texans don't collapse, Kubiak is expected to stay. What he has to figure out more than anything else is how to keep the running game consistent. Steve Slaton was going great until he had the seven fumbles, and then the running game was shot. Ryan Moats and Chris Brown didn't work out. The Texans have developed a good, young defense. Matt Schaub is on the verge of moving into the elite class of quarterbacks. But at some point, the Texans have to do better in the AFC South. Going 7-3 outside the division and 1-5 in the division leaves them in the 8-8 rut.
Q: I don't see Tim Tebow being a QB in the NFL, and I don't see him being a running back either, as he seems to lack pro speed. How about a Chris Cooley-kind of player? Who do you think will draft him and in which round?
Jay in West Chester, Pa.
A: We watched Pat White go in the second round to the Miami Dolphins, so there must be a place for Tebow. I agree with you as far as the quarterback thing. I'm not sure he's accurate enough to be a successful starting quarterback, but I'm not going to say he can't be a quarterback in this league. At the very least, he can be a backup. The team that drafts Tebow must be one willing to use him in many ways. He could be a tight end. He could be an H-back. He can also do things at quarterback. Let's say he slips out of the second round. A team like Jacksonville wouldn't be crazy to draft him and try to figure out what to do with him in camp. There must be some place in the league for a tall, talented athlete who was that good in college.
Q: What do you think the Dolphins will do in next year's draft?
Mike in Atlanta
A: Bill Parcells doesn't like taking wide receivers in the first round. It's not out of the question for the Dolphins to continue to look along the offensive line in the first round or add a defensive lineman. You'd have to figure they'd be looking for a wide receiver and maybe a backup tight end in Rounds 2 through 4. Parcells and the coaching staff are finding out they have a pretty good quarterback in Chad Henne, so they must get him a better stable of receivers. Parcells just isn't big on using a first-round pick on a receiver. Never has been. Never will be.
Q: I'm wondering what you feel makes Joe Flacco elite. He did take Baltimore to the AFC Championship Game as a rookie, but he wasn't elite in many stat categories. This year is more of the same. At this point, I see no way any intelligent person can call Flacco elite.
Greg in Carlisle, Pa.
A: Stats are one thing. Success is another. Eli Manning didn't put up great stats early in his starting career, but his Giants teams kept making the playoffs. As long as the Ravens don't lose to the Steelers in Week 16, they have a great chance of making the playoffs for a second consecutive year. You're right in one sense. It takes about four years for an elite quarterback to become elite enough to compete or beat the Peyton Mannings or Tom Bradys, but at some point, you have to identify the good ones. Flacco completes better than 63 percent of his passes, throws for more than 240 yards a game and has the ability to put together fourth-quarter comebacks to win games. When Flacco faces a team that doesn't have an elite quarterback, the Ravens usually win. That puts him in a top category. Elite doesn't just have to be like the Elite Eight in basketball. Being elite gives you the ability to compete against the top quarterbacks. He has that ability even though he's only in his second year.
Q: With the 49ers possessing two first-round picks in the 2010 draft, do you think they will try to trade for Carolina's Julius Peppers, or do you think they will try to fix their many troubled positions through the draft?
Stephen in San Jose, Calif.
A: Recent developments will allow the 49ers to use those two picks on other positions. Ahmad Brooks came out of nowhere and has become a pass-rushing force. He has four sacks in the past two games and coach Mike Singletary looks at him as a rare athlete who can do a lot of good things in this defense. Remember, Brooks was a second-round supplemental pick of the Bengals who had pass-rushing ability coming into the league. His presence has also picked up the play of Manny Lawson. If I were the 49ers, I'd use the two first-rounders on upgrading the offensive line or getting a starting cornerback. They also have to leave the option open of studying the quarterbacks if a good one falls to them.
Q: Do you think the Patriots' struggles stem from poor line play? Losing Richard Seymour was huge and I think that put tremendous pressure on a defense that had already lost Asante Samuel and others in the secondary. Also, the offensive line has been hurt and not played at a high level. Your thoughts?
Tramaine in Albany, N.Y.
A: You're not too far off. The Patriots have been off a little in several areas. The offensive line play has been spotty, but it's been good enough to get them into the playoffs. Without Seymour, the Pats aren't as dominant along the defensive line. You can see, with the constant change at cornerback and safety, the Pats are still patching in the secondary. This is a good Patriots team, but it's not great.
Q: I'm still trying to figure out how I feel about the Jason Peters pickup for the Eagles last offseason. Everyone seems to think he's been a bust. My current belief is that he's still adjusting to facing 4-3 defenses. What do you think of Peters?
John in Tampa, Fla.
A: It was a great move. Sure, Peters has had some games in which he hasn't been sharp, but he's a Pro Bowl talent who is only going to get better. He's working with a good coaching staff and a great offense. Tra Thomas was going to be a tough act to follow in Philadelphia, but you can't go wrong picking up a Pro Bowl talent who solidifies the left tackle spot for several more years.
Q: Where is the Chargers' Vincent Jackson? In the first half of the season, he was getting around 90 receiving yards and a TD a game. Now, he is lucky to get 54 yards. Are defenses putting two guys on him or was the first half of the season just a fluke?
James in San Diego
A: One thing you have to remember about a Norv Turner offense is that wide receivers usually don't get 90-catch seasons. Jackson's a stud. He has 58 catches for 989 yards and seven touchdowns. Antonio Gates is always going to be the go-to receiver in San Diego. Philip Rivers likes to throw longer passes, so it's going to be hard for Jackson to get too many of those seven- or eight-catch games. Still, I think his numbers are pretty good.
Q: A lot has been made of Aaron Rodgers' breakout season in Green Bay, and for good reason. But I think the Packers' defense has been the catalyst for the team's success this year. The Packers wouldn't be in the playoff hunt without Charles Woodson. Do you agree that he is this team's MVP? And will we ever see a defensive player as a legitimate candidate for league MVP again?
Rick in Minnesota
A: There is no doubt Woodson is one of the main candidates for defensive player of the year, but he has no chance of beating out Peyton Manning, Brees or Brett Favre for league MVP. The Packers have had a great season, but they are still a wild-card team. Manning and Brees are on unbeaten teams. In college and in the pros, the top awards usually go to offensive guys. Woodson is definitely a candidate for team MVP.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.