Jones-Drew expected to hit free agency

Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew is expected to hit free agency in March, but Jaguars General Manager David Caldwell indicated that the team would still be interested in re-signing the team’s top runner.

John Oesher of Jaguars.com reported via Twitter that, “Caldwell wouldn't envision signing MJD before free agency. Says MJD has earned the right to test market.”

While that could be loosely translated to mean that the Jaguars don’t want to overpay for a running back who saw his average per carry plummet to a career-low 3.4 yards his season, either way it appears that the 28-year-old Jones-Drew will have a chance to test his value on the open mar-ket. Jones-Drew just finished his eighth season.

Jones-Drew led the league in rushing in 2011 with 1,606 yards. He held out in 2012 and then suffered through an injury-riddled season. He had 803 yards rushing this season.

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Vikings and Browns competing for coaches

The Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns are both looking to interview a trio of coaches, according to separate reports from ESPN.

Both teams have requested permission to interview Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase.

Gase has reportedly declined to interview for any jobs until after Denver's season is finished.

Quinn could be a similar position, though the Seahawks do have a bye this week, giving him an opportunity to make time for an interview if he wants one.

Bowles' season is over so he can interview at any time, which would inidicate he has a better chance to get the job than Gase or Quinn.

The Browns fired Rob Chudzinski after just one season, to which the franchise finished 4-12. The Vikings let Leslie Frazier go after three full seasons from 2011-2013 and six games as an interim head coach in 2010.

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Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun.

Washington turns down USC gig

Three weeks ago we reported the news that new USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was looking to the professional ranks to fill out his staff by offering the offensive line coaching position to current Baltimore Ravens assistant offensive line coach Todd Washington. Tuesday morning, Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun and National Football Post reported that Washington had turned down a lucrative offer to join the Trojans in favor of staying with the Ravens.

“USC is a great program and Sarkisian is a heck of a coach,” Washington told the National Football Post Tuesday morning. “It’s an honor to be wanted by USC. But at this time, it just didn’t fit.”

The 37-year-old Washington has been with the Ravens since 2011 following a three-year coaching stint at the University of San Diego. An eight-year NFL veteran who retired following the 2005 season, Washington played offensive line in Tampa Bay and Houston following a collegiate career at Virginia Tech.

“[John] Harbaugh hired me even though I didn’t know anybody on the Ravens staff,” Washington told NFP. “Baltimore has been nice to me and my family. The organization is great and they have faith in me.”

With Washington out of play, Sarkisian turned to Tim Drevno, who served as the offensive line coach for the San Francisco 49ers the last three years, to fill the void.

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A look back and a look ahead

The week leading into the season opener, the NFP always publishes an article on the staff’s upcoming season and Super Bowl predictions. I’ve never thought of myself as a prognosticator, and that article sure as hell proved it. In the AFC, I had the division winners as New England, Cincinnati, Houston and Denver. I hit on three of four, but my Houston pick was awful. My wild card picks were Baltimore and Indianapolis. Indy won their division and Baltimore went from Super Bowl winner to 8-8. I can give myself a B- for the AFC predictions because except for Houston I wasn’t that far off.

When we get to the NFC, I have to grade myself an F. I had the Redskins, Bears, Falcons, and 49ers winning their Divisions. Not one made it! My wild card picks were Seattle and Carolina. The only thing I can pat myself on the back for was that I may have been one of the few that thought Carolina would have a good season.

Looking at how the regular season finished, I have to give Philadelphia a ton of credit. When they were 1-3, I wrote that their defense was one of the worst in the league. My reasoning was that their defensive staff had no NFL experience, except for their Defensive Coordinator. I was wrong. Down the stretch, their defense played very good football and came up with big plays week after week. Going into the playoffs, this is going to be a very hard team to prepare for. Their offense is as good as any in the league. Chip Kelly does a great job finding their opponents weaknesses and going after them. With this week’s game in Philly, they will be tough to beat.

Carolina is the surprise team in the NFC. I don’t think you will find anyone who picked them to win the division. Going into the season, Ron Rivera was thought to be on the firing line, and he responded with some outstanding coaching. Cam Newton played his best football since his rookie year, and going into the playoffs, the defense might be the best in the NFC. New GM, Dave Gettleman, also has to be given credit. He had a very good draft and made some tough personnel decisions on who to sign and who to let go. In recent history, NFL owners have been hiring a lot of “hot”, young guys to fill the general manager roles. It’s the old, experienced guy who had paid his dues who did the best job!

The Bears season was strange to say the least. New Head Coach Marc Trestman did an outstanding job turning around the Bears offense. The Bears offense in 2013 may have been their best ever in the history of the franchise. The Bears have always been known for defense, and it was the defense this year that let the team down. New defensive coordinator Mel Tucker played a very similar scheme to what Lovie Smith had played the last nine years. The results weren’t even close. The run defense was the worst in the league, and the safety play was horrible. General Manager Phil Emery has his work cut out for him the next few months, as there are over 20 players out of contract including QB Jay Cutler. This team could have a whole new look in 2014.

While the Panthers were the surprise team in the NFC, the Chiefs were the surprise of the AFC. They went from having the worst record in the league to a wild card team. Andy Reid may have done his best coaching job ever in turning this team around. The Chiefs always had talent, but now they are playing with confidence, and that’s coaching. In Sunday’s loss at San Diego, they didn’t dress many of their key players to rest them for the playoffs, yet they still took the game to overtime. That tells you the kind of depth this team has. The Colts had better be ready, because the Chiefs will give them everything they can handle this week in the opening round of the playoffs.

New England has been their usual, consistent self, and as long as Tom Brady is healthy, they will be tough to beat. Peyton Manning has had many great years, and this season may have been his best. With home field advantage, they will be very hard to beat. Let’s not forget that those two teams are coached by two of the best coaches in the business in Bill Belichick and John Fox.

The big surprise over the weekend was Cleveland firing Head Coach Rob Chudzinski after only one season on the job. Owner Jimmy Haslem, President Joe Banner, and GM Mike Lombardi have been taking some heat over the firing. Early in my career, I worked for the New York Giants, and in May of 1991, Bill Parcells surprised everyone by stepping down as Head Coach citing health concerns. GM George Young promoted Ray Handley from running backs coach to the Head Coach position. Once the 1991 season started, it didn’t take long to know that Handley was in over his head, and George knew that he should make a change but wouldn’t because of how it would be perceived. He waited one more year to make the change, and all it did was set back the franchise.

Cleveland finished the year with a 4-12 record. There were at least four other games where they had control of the game in the fourth quarter but couldn’t finish and win the game. Yes, I know that the team had numerous injuries and problems at quarterback, but these were games they should have won. The powers that be had to feel the same way and figured that “Chud” just wasn’t the right guy. Regardless of perception, you have to admire that they had the guts to do what they thought was right. They want to win as much as anyone. I know I’m in the minority, but I applaud them.

Speaking of the playoffs, I going to try this prediction thing one last time. If any of you like to bet, please don’t follow my advice. I’m the worst at predictions. With that said, in this week’s games, I like Kansas City over Indianapolis, Philly over New Orleans, San Francisco over Green Bay, and Cincinnati over San Diego. Right now I see a Denver – New England AFC Championship game and a Seattle – Carolina NFC Championship game. That’s as far as I will go right now.

Follow me on Twitter @greggabe

Tom Coughlin to return, but Gilbride's status up in the air

New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin will be back following a 7-9 season.

“I do want to coach,” Coughlin said. “I’ve always been a coach.”

Giants owner John Mara affirmed that Coughlin will return.

“We do want him back as our head coach,” Mara said. “We still have every confidence in him.”

However, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride could be in danger.

“I think our offense is broken right now and we need to fix that and we need to make some improvements on defense, too,” Mara said. “But obviously the offensive side of the ball we’ve got to improve there and we can’t go into next season with the same personnel.”

Will the Giants bring Gilbride and other assistants back?

“That’s obviously one of the main topics of discussion that we’re going to have at the end of the week, and until we have that, I don’t want to comment on it,” Mara said. “Certainly there are some changes that need to be made within the entire organization and whether that ends up being one of them or not, I’d rather wait until we have those discussions first.”

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Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun.

Gearing up to cash in

With a half-dozen franchises seeking new head coaches following another “Black Monday” purge, one might assume it was difficult for team officials from at least a few franchises to see the future beyond planning candidate interviews. But contacted at team facilities on a bloody Monday morning, a couple front office guys who retained their jobs despite an exorcism in the coach’s office down the hall actually told NFP they were in the very early stages of planning for veteran free agency in the spring.

Honest.

“We haven’t started watching tape yet . . . but it won’t be long until we do,” said a top personnel executive from one of the clubs that dumped its coach. “It doesn’t matter who the (new) coach is, the legwork still has to get done. It takes time, you know?”

As our good deed for the day, we’ll save the personnel man, and all of his colleagues around the league, some of that precious time. No sense, guys, spending even a few minutes poring over the highlight reel of Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy.

The guy can flat-out play, and when the “league year” commences on March 11, in roughly 2

Source: Sherrod Martin, Joe Lefeged visit Jaguars

Veteran free agent safety Sherrod Martin visited the Jacksonville Jaguars, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation.

The Jaguars also brought in former Indianapolis Colts safety Joe Lefeged and former Penn State center Matt Stankiewitch, signing Martin and Stankiewitch to reserve-future deals.

Martin has previously worked out for the Jaguars and Chicago Bears, visiting the Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs this year.

Martin, 28, is a former Carolina Panthers second-round draft pick from Troy who ended last season on injured reserve with torn right anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments that limited him to a dozen games.

He was selected 59th overall in the 2009 NFL draft.

In four seasons with the Panthers, the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder has 199 career tackles, 20 pass deflections, seven interceptions and one forced fumble.

In his first career start against the Arizona Cardinals, Martin intercepted two passes.

He was an All-Sun Belt Conference selection at Troy.

At Troy, the native of Griffin, Ga., had 292 career tackles, nine forced fumbles, nine interceptions, four sacks and three fumble recoveries.

Follow me on Twitter: @RavensInsider

Aaron Wilson covers the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun.

Texans sign Mike Thomas

Former Jacksonville Jaguars starting wide receiver Mike Thomas signed a reserve-future deal with the Houston Texans.

Thomas also has stints with the Detroit Lions and the Arizona Cardinals.

A former Jaguars fourth-round pick, Thomas has 176 career receptions for 1,796 yards and seven touchdowns.

Thomas once caught 66 passes for 820 yards and four touchdowns for the Jaguars in 2010.

Follow me on Twitter: @RavensInsider

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens and The Baltimore Sun.