Browns block rival teams' interview requests for offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens

Cleveland Browns offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens has become one of the hottest names in football since taking over play-calling duties midseason, but it doesn’t appear likely that he will find a new home in the near future.

According to a report from NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport, the Browns are blocking teams from interviewing their offensive coordinator as they continue with their head coaching search, since Kitchens is still under contract.

Kitchens is expected to interview for the head coaching job early next week, despite never being a coordinator before this season. But even if he is passed over, the franchise wants to give their new head coach a chance to hire Kitchens.

Kitchens has become such a hot name because of how he has turned around Rookie of the Year co-favorite Baker Mayfield and the Browns’ offense. It’s not terribly surprising that the Browns would want to stop Kitchens from making a lateral move, but with eight head coaching openings this offseason, Kitchens’ name will likely remain in the headlines since he has head coaching aspirations.

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NFL coaches fired after 2018 regular season

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Steve Wilks, Arizona Cardinals

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Baker Mayfield’s transformation under Kitchens

A key for whomever the Browns hire as their next head coach will be a close rapport with former No. 1 pick Mayfield, since he is the team’s biggest building block. That’s a major point for Kitchens, who may have the closest connection among any coach other thank Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley.

Mayfield played six weeks with Todd Haley running the offense before Haley and head coach Hue Jackson were dismissed, and he played the final eight weeks under Kitchens. In the latter half of the year, he saw an increase in completion rate (58.3 to 68.4 percent), yards per attempt (6.6 to 8.6 yards), and touchdown rate (3.6 to 7.2 percent).

Mayfield has been especially effective in the red zone, where he was 24-for-30 with 14 touchdowns and no interceptions under Kitchens’ watch. Compare that to his 14-for-27 mark with just six touchdowns under Haley.

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Baker Mayfield and Hue Jackson
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Baker Mayfield and Hue Jackson
BEREA, OH - JULY 26, 2018: (L to R) Head coach Hue Jackson, quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 and quarterbacks coach Ken Zampese of the Cleveland Browns talk on the field during a training camp practice on July 26, 2018 at the Cleveland Browns training facility in Berea, Ohio. (Photo by: 2018 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 30, 2018: Head coach Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns watches quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 warm up prior to a preseason game against the Detroit Lions on August 30, 2018 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. Cleveland won 35-16. (Photo by: 2018 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
BEREA, OH - JULY 27, 2018: Quarterback Baker Mayfield #6 of the Cleveland Browns throws a pass during a training camp practice on July 27, 2018 at the Cleveland Browns training facility in Berea, Ohio. (Photo by: 2018 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - AUGUST 30: Head coach Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns talks to Baker Mayfield #6 while playing the Detroit Lions during a preseason game at Ford Field on August 30, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 20: Head coach Hue Jackson of the Cleveland Browns celebrates with Baker Mayfield #6 after a 21-17 win over the New York Jets at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 20, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Sep 30, 2018; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Browns head coach Hue Jackson congratulates quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after the Browns scored a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders in the second quarter at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 25, 2018; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals special assistant to the head coach Hue Jackson (left) meets with Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) after their game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
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Are the Browns tipping their hand?

Since Kitchens is still under contract with the team, the Browns are within their rights to decline interview requests for other coordinator vacancies. For what it’s worth, Kitchens seems pretty content to stay with the Browns.

However, the fact that they’re letting it know he can’t be approached may hint at him having a decent shot at becoming their 17th head coach.

The flavor of the month seems to be bright offensive minds, as teams search for their own version of Los Angeles Rams’ head coach Sean McVay. The Rams brought McVay in at 30 years old, and it wasn’t clear at the time if he was ready for a head coaching position yet. Now it is.

Kitchens certainly wouldn’t have seemed like an obvious head coaching candidate a few years ago, but plenty of teams with openings will make working with their franchise quarterback a key aspect of the search. There’s the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers. The New York Jets and Sam Darnold. Even the Arizona Cardinals and Josh Rosen.

If the Browns don’t promote Kitchens, they run the risk of losing him to another team. It’s the same reason the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opted to fire Lovie Smith to promote OC Dirk Koetter, although that hasn’t ended well. And the signals coming out of Cleveland show they see the value in keeping Kitchens around.

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