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Paul Domowitch: Sources say Heckert favorite to be Falcons GM

EAGLES general manager Tom Heckert still appears to be the leading candidate to get the Atlanta Falcons' GM job once owner Arthur Blank ends his wild goose chase for Southern California coach Pete Carroll.

EAGLES general manager

Tom Heckert

still appears to be the leading candidate to get the Atlanta Falcons' GM job once owner

Arthur Blank

ends his wild goose chase for Southern California coach

Pete Carroll.

According to two league sources, the Falcons could offer the job to Heckert as soon as this weekend. The team interviewed several other personnel executives in the last 2 weeks, including Patriots director of college scouting Tom Dimitroff, Packers pro personnel director Reggie McKenzie, Packers personnel analyst to the general manager John Schneider and Jaguars director of college scouting Gene Smith.

Chris Mara, the Giants' vice president of player evaluation, withdrew his name from consideration yesterday. He wasn't believed to be a serious candidate.

While Blank also has interviewed candidates for the head-coaching vacancy while conducting his search for a general manager, the new GM will select the coach.

If Heckert gets the job, his top head-coaching candidate is believed to be Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Spagnuolo spent eight years as an assistant on Andy Reid's Eagles staff before taking the Giants job last January.

Heckert is thought to be the main reason the Falcons asked the Giants for permission to speak with Spagnuolo this week. The Giants turned them down, which means Atlanta can't interview him until after his team is eliminated from the playoffs.

"In our opinion, and in Steve's as well, this is not the time [to interview]," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Steve's focus and concentration, as it should be, is right on this game, just like we all are. He and I spoke about this, and he is the guy that brought it up first. He said, 'I don't want to be distracted at this point in time with anything.' "

If Heckert is hired and he hires Spagnuolo, the Eagles could lose at least one other valuable employee. Quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur is thought to be on the short list of people Spagnuolo would consider as his offensive coordinator.

If Heckert takes the Falcons job, it's uncertain whether the Eagles would replace him with someone inside the organization or go outside. The logical in-house replacement is vice president of player personnel Jason Licht.

Around the league

* Tony Romo's weekend getaway to Cabo San Lucas with Jessica Simpson continues to produce far more headlines and talk-show conversation than it deserves. In Dallas, they're referring to Simpson as "Yoko Romo." It probably needs to be noted that several other people made the trip besides Romo and Simpson, including Cowboys tight end Jason Witten. "Part of the reason I got away was just because I don't feel sometimes that I get to be on my own when I'm in certain places," the Cowboys quarterback told reporters this week. "It was nice to go there and just rent a house and just sit around and watch football over the weekend and not have to worry about answering the phone or worry about tickets, or radio shows or TV things, and just the normal, everyday things. I think I needed it and I think some of our guys needed it. I think it will hopefully help us prepare for this week."

* Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Cowboys offensive boss Jason Garrett are two of the hottest young assistants in the league right now. But while Garrett has interviewed for the head-coaching vacancies in Baltimore and Atlanta, McDaniels has turned down all interview requests. He's only 30 years old, with only 4 years under his belt as a position coach and/or coordinator, and is smart enough to realize he's probably not ready to run his own show quite yet. "I was grateful for the opportunity that those teams gave me," he said. "But at this time, the best thing for me is to be here and focus my efforts on the preparation for the playoff run here. I want to be here in New England."

* Two things Bill Parcells won't do with the Dolphins' first-round pick: He won't take Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, because he doesn't believe in taking a running back that high in the draft. And even though the Dolphins finished last in the league in run defense, he won't take LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey. While Parcells hasn't hired a new head coach, it's a good bet Parcells will want his team playing a 3-4 defensive scheme. And Dorsey, who is only 6-1 and about 305 pounds, isn't an ideal 3-4 nose tackle or end. He's a three-technique tackle in a 4-3.

* Kyle Shanahan, the 28-year-old son of Broncos coach Mike, has been named the Houston Texans' new offensive coordinator, replacing Mike Sherman, who left to become the head coach at Texas A & M. Shanahan had been the team's quarterbacks coach and will continue to oversee that position. Shanahan becomes the youngest coordinator in the league. "I don't care about his age," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "Because I know he's a darn good coach that's only going to get better. I've worked side-by-side with him, and his knowledge of attacking coverages is beyond his years. I think he's going to make an excellent playcaller, too."

* NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is expected to revisit Pacman Jones' suspension in February after he returns from the Pro Bowl. Jones probably will be reinstated then. Titans coach Jeff Fisher wasn't ready to talk about Jones this week. "We've got a lot of internal discussions that will be taking place regarding his status," Fisher said. According to several league sources, the Titans will look to trade Jones. He would address two of the Eagles' more pressing offseason needs – a shutdown corner and a kick returner. But there's no way Andy Reid would consider bringing a guy with his character issues to One NovaCare Way.

* The Jets plan to bring back Chad Pennington and have him compete with Kellen Clemens for the starting quarterback job. Pennington was benched at midseason and replaced by Clemens, who had his problems, completing only 52 percent of his passes and throwing only five TDs and 10 interceptions. It's hard to fathom the Jets hanging on to Pennington if he isn't the starter. He has a $7.8 million '08 cap number.

* Browns GM Phil Savage wants both Derek Anderson and '07 first-round pick Brady Quinn back next season. Anderson will be a restricted free agent, but Savage hopes to re-sign him to a new deal. "It could be anything from 2 years to 7 years," he said. "We want to go into next season with both of them. We feel we're going to be a contending team. You'd hate for an injury at that position. If that happened and one of them wasn't there, it would derail everything else we've put in place." Savage said there will be no training camp competition for the starting job. If Anderson is on the team, he will be the season-opening starter.

By the numbers

* The Packers don't have a third-down sack in the last five games. They registered 16 in the first 11 games.

* The Titans managed to win 10 games despite scoring one or no offensive touchdowns in nine of their 17 games.

* The top AFC and NFC seeds haven't both made it to the Super Bowl since 1993, when the Cowboys defeated the Bills, 30-13.

2-minute drill


* "When I came back 4 years ago, [his wife] Pat told me, 'You're going to ruin your good name.' Last year, after we went 5-11, she said, 'Well, you're halfway there.' " - Joe Gibbs, who resigned as Redskins coach this week

* "I don't think everyone expects us to win it. I think a lot of people expect us to lose. I think the normal mind-set of people basically is, 'Eventually, they're going to lose a game. Eventually. Why not Jacksonville?' " - Patriots safety Rodney Harrison

* "He's got to be committed to becoming an NFL quarterback. What I mean by that is, it's not enough to be an athlete running around anymore. He's got to become a student of the game, be able to know our game plan inside and out, so if things don't go the way he thinks they go, he has the ability to go in there and say, 'Hey, we should run this,' or 'I'm going to call this play.' " - Titans center Kevin Mawae on quarterback Vince Young

* "What have I done to be a cancer? What do they know about what I've done in the locker room to become a cancer? That's frustrating. I'm just trying to get healthy. That's the big part." – Broncos WR Javon Walker, who said he's no longer a "fit" in the team's offense


To Joe Gibbs for wisely deciding his family needed him much more than the Redskins did and resigning. Every NFL coach lugs around a certain level of guilt because of the demands of the job. Guilt over being an absentee father. Guilt over not being there for school plays and band concerts and basketball games. Guilt over making his wife serve as both mother and father. Most coaches are able to compartmentalize that guilt, but it's always there. With a 3-year-old grandson battling leukemia, Gibbs couldn't ignore it any longer.


To Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who has turned his search for a coach and general manager into a three-ring circus. It was bad enough that he was interviewing coaching candidates before hiring a GM. It was bad enough that Rich McKay, who is being replaced as GM, has been part of the hiring process. Now, Blank apparently is making goo-goo eyes at Southern California coach Pete Carroll and offering Carroll complete control of football operations. There isn't enough money to get Carroll to come to Atlanta, where the Falcons rank a distant third in popularity to college football and NASCAR. And didn't the Bobby Petrino debacle teach this freaking guy anything about the dangers of hiring college guys?