Bears

Will Bill Parcells end up coaching the Saints?

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Will Bill Parcells end up coaching the Saints?

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Decisions are still pending on a possible appeal of Sean Payton's suspension or an interim coach should his season-long punishment be upheld, a person familiar with the situation said. The person says Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and their staffs were in meetings at the team's suburban headquarters Thursday and focused primarily on preparations for next month's NFL draft. The person spoke to The Associated Press Thursday on condition of anonymity because the Saints have not announced their plans. "Everyone is working hard, in draft meetings, et cetera ... trying to get better," the person said. Payton's suspension in connection with the Saints' bounty scandal is slated to begin on Sunday, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has said he has until Monday to appeal. Payton has sought advice on the matter from his friend and retired coach Bill Parcells, who has told several media outlets he'd consider taking the Saints' interim coaching job if Payton, his protege, asked him to take over. "I had plenty of opportunities to do things with different teams, and I've turned them all down," Parcells, who turns 71 in August, told the New York Daily News. "But this one is special. This guy is like family to me. And if I could help him, I would." Payton began working with Parcells in 2003, when he was hired as an offensive assistant with the Dallas Cowboys. The two have been close ever since and Payton, throughout his six seasons as New Orleans' head coach, has continued consulting his mentor on numerous matters, including how to handle preparations for the 2010 Super Bowl. However, the Saints must clear up several matters before they can choose an interim coach. They must not only decide whether to appeal, but would have to see if an appeal resulted in a reduced punishment. If Payton's punishment is upheld, the Saints could then proceed with finding an interim coach either from their own staff or outside the organization. If the Saints choose the latter approach and Parcells becomes a top candidate, the club would still have to interview a minority candidate under the NFL's "Rooney Rule." "I don't know how this is going to play out," Parcells, who was a Hall of Fame finalist this year, told the newspaper. "I really don't know anything about the situation. There's a lot of things going on here, and I would suspect it's going to take a while to all sort out." There are also three strong candidates among Saints assistants to take over as interim coach: offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo and offensive line coach Aaron Kromer. Payton expressed confidence in the abilities of his own assistants to compensate for his absence, but also has voiced some misgivings about saddling those coaches with additional responsibilities. "We feel like we've got a number of good candidates" on the staff, Payton said earlier this week at NFL meetings in Florida. "The trick then is what it does to affect their roles that they currently have." The appeal process itself, should Payton choose that route, is not expected to give him much additional time to work. Goodell has said he would expedite that process, indicating that it is highly unlikely Payton would be able to keep working through the draft in late April if he files an unsuccessful appeal. That is why Payton is spending long hours with Loomis, other coaches and scouts reviewing draft prospects this week. Payton said he has also laid out plans for the offseason training program and the beginning of training camp, up until the Saints play Arizona in the Hall of Fame game Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio. If this is indeed Payton's final week of work in 2012, Loomis will be able to oversee the draft and handle other roster moves up until the season starts. Then he is slated to serve his eight-game suspension for failing to put a stop to the bounty system in a timely way. Assistant head coach Joe Vitt, who also coaches linebackers, is facing a six-game suspension. The NFL's investigation in New Orleans found that Payton initially lied to league investigators about the existence of a bounty and instructed his defensive assistants to do the same. Payton twice apologized for his role in an enterprise that offered payouts for knocking out opponents, saying he takes "full responsibility" for a system that operated for three years under his watch. The NFL has said as many as 27 players also could be sanctioned for their role in the scandal.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?