CINCINNATI — Shortly after 5:30 on Monday night, chaos erupts inside Zac Taylor’s office.
To the right of the Cincinnati Bengals coach’s desk, Taylor’s 7-year-old son, Luke, works the clicker of the Patriots-Chiefs game tape that Zac was watching before he pretends to pick up the phone and be his dad. Emma Claire, 3, scribbles squiggly lines beneath her father’s play designs. Brooks, 9, thumbs through the playbook and asks his friends who wants to be the “X” receiver and who wants to be the “Z.” Milly, 1, bounces between the floor and the arms of her mother, Sarah.
Stacks of grease-stained paper plates with pizza crusts and stray pepperoni slices start to pile up on the long, wooden table in Taylor’s office. It all seems like a mess. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Every Monday night, work stops for an hour for family night, when the Bengals coaches’ wives and children descend on the team facility in downtown Cincinnati. It’s a brief respite for the men, especially those with young children, who go multiple days every week without spending quality time with their families.
If winning is paramount in the NFL, finding the time to be a father and husband is a scarce commodity. Taylor, the 36-year-old rookie coach and father of four, wants to have both.
“You just want to make sure that guys feel like they can balance that as best we can,” Taylor told ESPN. “It’s not easy.”
Everything about Taylor’s current task seems difficult. The Bengals have lost 12 of their 13 games this season and are the worst team in the NFL. The franchise is about to hit 29 seasons without a playoff victory, the league’s longest drought.
As Cincinnati’s coaching staff has discovered firsthand, winning in the NFL is tougher than it looks. But being available for their families doesn’t have to be.
The concept of family night isn’t unique to the Bengals. Teams have held some variation of it at every place Taylor has worked, including the Los Angeles Rams.
When Taylor was a graduate assistant at Texas A&M for his father-in-law, Mike Sherman, families arrived on campus on Monday nights for a cafeteria-style dinner. Taylor and Sarah, who worked in the recruiting office and had a desk 20 feet away from Zac, didn’t have any kids. They grabbed a plate and headed up to his office — a converted closet — for those 45 minutes.
Sherman guesses he wasn’t the one in the family who primarily influenced Zac’s decision to establish the same tradition in Cincinnati.
“I’m sure my daughter had a lot of influence on that because she participated in family night and thought it was a good deal,” said Sherman, the former Green Bay Packers coach who most recently led the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes.
Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan experienced something similar during his days under Gary Kubiak in Denver, where families came up on Saturdays for breakfast, hung out in the indoor facility during walk-throughs and reconnected afterward.
Callahan, 35, is one of several coaches on staff with young kids. Aside from Monday nights, he generally sees them awake only after Sunday games and then after Friday’s practice. His children — Norah, 4, and Ronan, 2 — are usually in bed around 8 p.m., a few hours before Callahan gets home at the beginning of the week.
Callahan has lived the experiences his children will have. His father, Bill Callahan, the former Raiders coach and current interim head coach at Washington, started coaching five years before he was born. When Brian Callahan turned 10, he found his way to the team facilities on a regular basis.
From a football aspect, Callahan said family night is another example of the type of team culture Taylor wants to build in Cincinnati.
“It’s hard to say you’re trying to build a family and trying to treat it like a family when nobody’s families are ever around,” Callahan said.
When Taylor was a quarterback at Nebraska from 2005 to 2006, he remembers hearing coaches talk about how they rarely saw their children.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, I would never do that,'” Taylor said. “My dad was around as a kid.”
Giving coaches extra time during the week to be fathers and husbands is one of the reasons the Bengals have family night every Monday. Taylor recalled that during long trips with the Rams, he might go three weeks without seeing his family. Now, the only time he sees the kids Tuesday through Friday is if he gets home around 9 p.m. and Sarah lets them stay up to watch Thursday Night Football.
Coaches and their families at every level know they will be apart a majority of the time for several months a year. During Bengals defensive assistant Gerald Chatman’s time as a graduate assistant at Texas A&M, he saw his wife, Lauren, mainly on Thursdays.
Now in Cincinnati, Lauren will pick up their two daughters — Kinley, 3, and Amelia, 9 months — after her shift as a nurse at a local hospital to make it to Paul Brown Stadium on Monday evenings.
“They make just as many sacrifices that we do as coaches, too,” Chatman, 31, said. “My wife, even the girls. Because we’re giving up time being with them.”
Taylor’s philosophy of letting his coaches be fathers isn’t limited to family night. If someone’s child has a pageant at school, a parent-teacher conference or a big game during the week, Taylor has no problem letting that coach duck out to be part of it.
When he was in Los Angeles, Taylor said Rams coach Sean McVay never hesitated to let Taylor free for an hour.
Cincinnati assistant James Casey, 35, appreciates that. The former NFL tight end and assistant at the University of Houston has cherished seeing his family on Monday nights, especially when the Bengals started the year by losing 11 straight games.
When Casey’s wife, Kylie, and two sons, Cannon, 9, and Knox, 6, see him on Mondays, it puts what he’s doing into perspective.
“I know it sounds a little cliché, but it’s really the reason why you’re doing this — to provide for your family,” Casey said. “You want to win football games and make an impact with the players. But nothing’s more important to make an impact than with your own kids and with your own family.”
And the relationships built between coaches’ kids last long after staffs dissolve. Sarah still keeps up with those she has met over the years during her father’s career, including Jen Gase, the wife of New York Jets coach Adam Gase, and Audra Davie, the daughter of former New Mexico and Notre Dame coach Bob Davie.
When Bengals offensive line coach Jim Turner’s name comes up in conversation, Zac and Sarah ask Brooks if he knows who Turner is.
“I know Jimmy,” Brooks says. “He’s Michael’s dad.”
There’s LaRosa’s pizza waiting for everyone on Mondays. Sarah brings chocolate chip cookies, which are always a big hit. Even though it can be difficult to wrangle four kids into the car for the weekly trip to the stadium, they’ve missed only one family night all season.
“We’re going down there to eat a free dinner,” Sarah Taylor said. “It’s pizza. I don’t have to clean my kitchen.”
Abbie Rosfeld, the wife of Bengals director of coaching operations Doug Rosfeld, echoes the sentiment. Doug, Abbie and their six kids ranging in age from 2 to 15 will go into the quarterbacks’ film room, watch a show and eat pizza. Most of the time, they watch the TV show “DC Super Hero Girls.” But in the spirit of the holidays, they’re watching the movie “White Christmas” instead.
A few children run laps around the coaches’ offices, a sneaky ploy by the parents to tire them out so they’re ready for bed when they get home. The assistants who don’t have young children will close their doors or spend the hour working out.
And for the most part, nobody talks about football.
“The season’s a grind,” Callahan said. “It’s a lot of hours and a lot of time away from your family. To get a chance to see them on a Monday night and share a couple laughs and have a piece of pizza, it’s awesome.”
At the end of family night, Brooks Taylor throws the ball to his friends on the turf field in the weight room before they exit through the locker room, briefly stopping to stare at the spaces of their favorite players. Casey throws his arm around his wife while their two kids run in front of them. One of Chatman’s daughters is atop his shoulders as he and his family walk out.
Upstairs, the coaches get back to football as they continue working on the game plan to beat the Patriots. They don’t know how Sunday’s game will turn out.
But they know exactly what Monday night will be like. And there will be pizza.
RB Lamar Miller, Patriots agree to one-year deal, agent says
The Patriots were eyeing another option at running back after No. 1 option Sony Michel underwent offseason foot surgery and opened training camp on the active/physically unable to perform list, and valuable backup Brandon Bolden opted out of the 2020 season.
Miller missed the 2019 season after he tore his ACL in the Houston Texans‘ third preseason game against the Cowboys.
He joins a depth chart in New England that includes “passing back” James White, versatile eight-year veteran Rex Burkhead, 2019 third-round pick Damien Harris of Alabama, and undrafted free-agent J.J. Taylor (Arizona).
During his three active seasons in Houston, Miller ran for 2,934 yards and 13 touchdowns on 716 carries. He also caught 92 passes and scored five touchdowns. Miller’s best season for the Texans came in 2018, when he averaged 4.6 yards per carry.
Before Miller tore his ACL, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien praised Miller’s ability in pass protection.
During the 2019 offseason, Miller focused on dropping his body fat and continuing to work on his speed and his lower body strength. He said he felt quicker during training camp and he felt the agility work he had done in the offseason had paid off.
Miller, 29, was a free agent for the first time since signing a four-year, $26 million contract with the Texans in 2016.
He began his career with the Miami Dolphins, who selected him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft and has 7,429 total yards from scrimmage in his career and 40 total touchdowns.
ESPN’s Mike Reiss and Sarah Barshop contributed to this report.
Healthy Alvin Kamara says he’s not concerned about Saints contract
METAIRIE, La. — Alvin Kamara insisted that he isn’t concerned about his contract heading into the final year of his rookie deal. In fact, the New Orleans Saints running back said he told his agent not to even mention it to him unless something serious develops.
Instead, the three-time Pro Bowler said his main focus this offseason was healing from the knee and ankle injuries that plagued his “rocky” 2019 season.
“I’m just here to do my job. I’m healthy and back with my teammates, and we’re working toward getting ready for Tampa [in Week 1],” said Kamara, who missed only two games (Weeks 7-8) last year but was noticeably hobbled after he returned.
Earlier this offseason, Kamara tweeted that he was about 75% healthy and playing on “one leg.”
But he said the competitor in him wanted to be on the field and provide whatever he could for his teammates.
Kamara said he “basically tore my knee” during Week 6 of last season. But he said the injury did not require surgery after the season. Just “a lot of rehab.”
“[In the past], I normally wouldn’t even think twice about being able to break a tackle or bounce it outside or turn a 2-yard gain into 10. But last year was a lot of just, ‘Get what I can get and go down and don’t do too much because I could possibly hurt my knee more or it’s too painful to even think about making another move,'” said Kamara, who finished with 797 rushing yards, a career-low 533 receiving yards and a career-low six touchdowns.
“So it was a lot of — I wouldn’t say ‘uncharacteristic’ because obviously I was injured. But it wasn’t what I would like to put on film.”
Kamara acknowledged that he was frustrated by the injury limitations — and that as a result, his body language “was terrible, and I know it.”
He said it didn’t bother him that fans were noting his body language on social media. But he said it’s “another thing” when his teammates mentioned it.
“They knew what I was going through. And at times it’s like, ‘Hey AK, I know you’re hurting, but come on.’ So I’m like, ‘All right, now I’ve got to snap back,'” Kamara said. “I’m healthy now, so I’m happy to be in this space.”
Kamara, who turned 25 two weeks ago, said he focused a lot on his legs during his offseason training — strengthening them, as well as adding flexibility and mobility.
He said he also changed his diet to be more plant-based, while cutting out some sugar and sodium. But he said he is still around 211 pounds, which is close to his usual offseason weight of 212-215. Kamara is officially listed at 5-foot-10, 215 pounds.
Kamara also credited the Saints’ training staff for working so hard to get him as close to 100% and “as close to AK and feeling like myself” as possible last year.
If Kamara gets back to his usual self, it could pay big dividends for both the Saints and his next contract.
Kamara finished with 728 rushing yards, 826 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns as a rookie, even though he didn’t start playing significantly until Week 4. Then he finished with 883 rushing yards, 709 receiving yards and 18 TDs in 2019. He has finished with exactly 81 catches every year.
If he gets back to numbers like those, he could potentially command a contract in the range of the $16 million per year that fellow fourth-year pro Christian McCaffrey inked earlier this offseason. However, the reduced salary cap could affect things for pending free-agent running backs like Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon and several others. And the Saints will be particularly squeezed by the cap in 2021.
Although a source told ESPN earlier this summer that Cook was prepared to hold out from some team activities without a reasonable contract extension, Kamara does not appear to making any sort of push for a new deal — even though he is scheduled to make just $2.133 million in 2020.
“It’ll happen when it happens,” Kamara said. “Me and my agent talked briefly about it, and I told him, ‘Don’t tell me anything about a contract until it’s like something where it’s happening or there’s something I need to know.'”
When asked if he also decided to “bet on himself” having a big bounce-back year, Kamara said, “I bet on myself every year.”
“It’s never been something … like I didn’t come in [to the NFL] thinking about like, ‘Ooh, I can’t wait till I get a contract,'” Kamara said. “It’s like, ‘I’m playing, and when that comes it’s gonna be well deserved and it’s gonna be perfect timing for it.’ It’s just not something that’s at the forefront of my day. It’s not something I wake up thinking about.
“I just wake up thinking about, ‘All right, I gotta do what I have to do for this team to win, put myself in the best position to be successful, and then with team success comes individual success.’ So that’s what I’m focused on, and that’s been my message since I’ve been here.”
Jaguars’ Yannick Ngakoue, yet to sign franchise tag, parts ways with agent
Yannick Ngakoue is searching for new representation after parting ways with his current agent, a league source confirmed on Monday afternoon.
Ngakoue has yet to sign his non-exclusive franchise tag tender with the Jacksonville Jaguars and has not been at training camp. Ngakoue has been adamant that he no longer wants to play for the franchise because he feels the Jaguars offered him a contract last season far below what he believes he’s worth.
NFL Network first reported Ngakoue’s decision to change agents.
The 25-year-old Ngakoue has been very vocal about his dissatisfaction with the Jaguars on social media and during an April Twitter tirade against Tony Khan, the son of owner Shad Khan and the team’s senior vice president of football administration and technology. He called Tony Khan spoiled and a clown.
The Jaguars reportedly offered Ngakoue a deal that would have paid him up to $19 million annually last July, but Ngakoue wanted more than $20 annually and turned it down. He played last season — after an 11-day training camp holdout — for $2.025 million and announced on Twitter that he told the Jaguars he would not sign a long-term deal and wanted a trade.
Ngakoue, whom the Jaguars drafted in the third round in 2016, had eight sacks and four forced fumbles in 15 games last season and has 38.5 sacks in his career, which places him second on the franchise’s all-time list. He also has forced 14 fumbles, which is more than all but three players from 2016-19: Chandler Jones (17), Khalil Mack (17) and T.J. Watt (15).
In addition, Ngakoue has been directly responsible for five of the 12 defensive touchdowns the Jaguars have scored since 2016: a pick-six, a fumble return, and three forced fumbles on sacks that other players recovered for touchdowns. He also forced a fumble that resulted in a touchdown in the 2017 playoffs.
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