Melissa’s Monday Musings: Which NFL Job Opening is Most Desirable?
Welcome to the mega event that is Black Monday. We spend weeks predicting which coaches will be fired and hold fiercely strong opinions on which ones should be fired. Like everything else in the NFL, once here the dominoes fall in dizzying fashion. Chuck Pagano out. Jack Del Rio out. John Fox out. Jim Caldwell out. Bruce Arians retires. Who’s next?
The news is coming fast and furious and while dissecting each coach’s demise is natural, I think it’s more productive to examine each opening in terms of desirability. Many factors can instantly alter a team’s course (examples: trading for a megastar QB like Jimmy Garoppolo or any devastating injury) but we still can make an educated guess about which locales offer the best chance of success for the Sean McVays or even the Sean McDermotts of this new coaching class.
Teams are listed from worst to best destination but it should be noted that most of the current openings are largely desirable given that they come with a franchise quarterback. I will update as more dominoes fall. (Any cap number is via Spotrac.com.)
And stay tuned a few more of my thoughts on Black Monday and Week 17 below.
Bruce Arians rode off into the sunset of his own volition, meaning the Cardinals were not desperately looking for a change of direction. They also ended on a high note, winning three of their last four. The Cards have a lot of talent on the roster but many questions remain. Is 38-year-old Carson Palmer going to retire? What about Larry Fitzgerald’s future? In terms of possibly replenishing at QB, Arizona picks no. 15 but the options could be slimmer by that point. They could also make a play for Kirk Cousins in free agency. But with many positions in flux – namely QB, WR (Jaron and John Brown are free agents) and offensive line (constant issues) – and a division that may be the best in football next year, the new coach will have an uphill battle.
This gig is a bit of an outlier considering that it is wrapped in a bow for Jon Gruden, who will reportedly make upwards of $10 million a year and receive an ownership stake in his return to the Raiders. He’ll like have a lot of personnel say, too. Heck, owner Mark Davis is so enamored with Gruden that he’ll probably agree to buy and name a Vegas hotel after him. No NFL job will offer more security from the outset.
Gruden will have a fascinating task perfect for his skill set– fixing Derek Carr. Carr regressed mightily this season. It’s easy to blame OC Todd Downing who is more a player’s coach than strategist or a rash of injuries. Carr simply made a lot of poor decisions this season. But the ex-MVP candidate is ripe for a return to stardom with the right offensive philosophy and supporting cast. We also can assume Gruden will not stand for players who take themselves out of games for no reason (see: Michael Crabtree). Oakland does own the no. 8 overall pick and is scheduled to have $15.6 million in cap space in its quest to add more pieces.
Mitchell Trubisky is an exciting young talent who was absolutely hamstrung by John Fox and Dowell Loggains’ conservatism. Imagine what a fresh, gutsy offensive guru could do for him. Think McVay-Goff in case you weren’t already.
Whoever is hired should strongly consider retaining DC Vic Fangio. While keeping a coordinator is hardly the norm, think of Fangio like this: if he were a free agent he would be the league’s most desirable defensive coordinator, especially given his mastery this season. Under Fangio the Bears were no. 8 in total defense, all while playing one of the league’s hardest schedules and losing disruptive OLB Leonard Floyd in November. The Bears are still very needy across the board, particularly at WR, and their starting CBs are free agents, but the foundation is there and opportunity to mold Trubisky into a franchise quarterback should be intriguing.
New York Giants
Of all the openings, the New York Football Giants have the most fascinating quarterback situation. 37-year-old Eli Manning says he wants to stick around, though he’ll have to do some restructuring since the Giants cap space currents sits at -$289,891. He could also be traded. Regardless of the Manning situation, the Giants are shoo-ins to draft a QB at no. 2, meaning the new coach can instantly frame the future.
New GM Dave Gettleman is an intriguing colleague. Based on precedent, he will be hell bent to improve the offensive line and his presence should set forth a much needed culture change. He’s not known for loyalty and will have no issue cutting players who don’t meet his vision. But he’s also a strong personality and it will take the right coach to thrive under Gettleman’s watch.
Back-to-back 9-7 seasons were not good enough for Jim Caldwell to keep his job. That’s because the expectations are sky high in Detroit, given the base of talent. The new head coach gets to inherit the Lions’ prolific passing offense and Matthew Stafford, who can be a top 3 QB in this league on any given week. The Lions secondary is already one of the best in football, led by Pro Bowler corner Darius Slay and safety Glover Quin.
The Lions are in need of a more fearful pass rush, overall defensive consistency and a revamped running game, but there is one overriding element that will be crucial for the new coach to possess: fire. Caldwell seemed like a nice guy but we’d have to check his pulse most weeks. This critical oomph is a large reason why Pats DC Matt Patricia is already being linked to Detroit.
One interesting twist: GM Bob Quinn is reportedly keen on keeping OC Jim Bob Cooter around if he’s not snagged by another team. Cooter has improved the Lions offense and is well liked by Stafford. Perhaps a defensive-minded coach like Patricia getting his first shot at the top job would more readily accept an inheritance.
The new Colts coach has one huge advantage on his side: very tiny shoes to fill. Improving on Chuck Pagano’s performance, both in scheme creativity and game management, should be a piece of cake. But the big appeal of this job lies in the undeniable fact that an elite franchise quarterback can single-handedly turnaround a franchise. Assuming Andrew Luck shows up to training camp ready to go (a big if), the Colts are instantly a playoff contender, despite the emergence of Jacksonville as a whole and Deshaun Watson in Houston.
GM Chris Ballard did a nice job rebuilding the defensive line and 2017 draft picks safety Malik Hooker and running back Marlon Mack should be highly productive for many years. The Colts need more defensive help, another top-flight receiver and an offensive line overhaul. But they have plenty of salary cap room (third most in the NFL) and the no. 3 draft pick to get there.
A few more musings….
– Don’t forget that fired coaches are also human brings. Most know what they’re getting into but that doesn’t soften the blow for families, and assistants’ families, many of who will have to uproot their lives.
– Sniffing the same air as Bill Belichick is quite the powerful trait because the Patriots’ defense hasn’t finished higher than 20th overall since 2014 and yet Patricia is already the most widely discussed candidate.
– Mark Davis fired Jack Del Rio because he recruited and got his prize, Jon Gruden (not official, but no reason for ESPN to report if not true). I’m not sure what to do about The Rooney Rule in this case. The Raiders must comply and will have to interview a token candidate with both sides knowing there’s a 0% chance that person gets the job. Interview practice and network building is always beneficial, especially for a minority candidate that may not get as many looks without The Rooney Rule, but this one will really be going through the motions from Oakland’s perspective. Given the Raiders’ clear history of embracing minority coaches and executives, they shouldn’t be thrown under the bus for imperfections in the rule and knowing exactly who they want to hire. But if I’m a minority candidate, I absolutely turn down an interview request from Oakland. The Raiders should just pay the fine in this case and not waste anyone’s time.
– Love everything about the Bills’ playoff berth. Not sure there has been a greater reaction to anything in the NFL this year than the Bills watching the Bengals’ come-from-behind-win to send them to the playoffs.
— Buffalo Bills (@buffalobills) January 1, 2018
On a related note, Lyndsey D’Arcangelo’s profile of the longest tenured Bill, Kyle Williams, is a must read.
– Luckily for Pittsburgh, Mike Tomlin’s decision to not only bench but deactivate Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell did not come back to bite them in terms of missing out on a no 1 seed. However, I’m still baffled by the move and believe the starters should have played the first quarter. A one-week bye before the playoffs is ideal. A two-week bye and things can get a little rusty.
– Kirk Cousins’ value is going to be fascinating this offseason. I think the Redskins were right to double franchise him. I also believe they should sign him.
– The late slate of Week 17 games were exhilarating. Kudos to the NFL schedule makers for grouping together all the action with real playoff ramifications.
– Maybe in 2018 we can start gaining perspective so I don’t have to type captain obvious statements like … Corey Coleman is not the reason the Browns are 0-16.