Three teams already have sideline vacancies. Who’s next? Here’s a primer on what to watch for as Week 17 concludes, including a separation in San Diego, postseason or bust in Detroit and a potential rare coaching trade
Black Monday isn’t what it used to be.
The Rams and Jaguars are already in the thick of research to find new coaches. The Bills are getting their search started. And the 2016 season doesn’t even end for another couple days.
So some of the drama that usually lurks on the final Sunday and into Monday morning won’t be there the way it usually is.
But history says we’re not done yet. There have been a staggering 45 coaching changes over over the past six years, with no less than seven in any single year over that stretch. That number—45—is even crazier when you consider 25 of the league’s 32 teams have accounted for all the changes.
Think that gives the seven clubs that have remained stable (Packers, Patriots, Ravens, Saints, Seahawks, Steelers, Bengals) an edge?
Some of the usual suspects will be back on the block again next week. Some, like the Bills and Jags—each looking for their fourth coach over that six-year stretch—are already there. It won’t lack drama or intrigue. So here, as the carousel starts to spin, and following weeks of conversations with people in front offices and on coaching staffs on these matters, are some things to keep an eye on …
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THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. Postseason movement isn’t always only caused by terminations. Could we see a retirement or two? While neither has lent validity to the idea first-hand, there continues to be speculation in league circles about whether Arizona’s Bruce Arians or Denver’s Gary Kubiak could walk away in the near future. Both had health issues this year, and both had 2015 seasons that rubber-stamp their legacies as head coaches. Arians is 64; Kubiak is 55. If either of those jobs were to open up, they’d be considered top-of-the-NFL type positions. And along those lines, there also have been questions about whether Packers GM Ted Thompson could retire after this season, with Eliot Wolf a potential heir to the throne his dad, Ron, once held.
2. Would the Saints trade Sean Payton a year after signing him to a five-year, $45 million contract extension? I know from having talked to Payton that he values living in New Orleans and being a short flight away from watching his son play high school football in Dallas. But the potential lure of California (where his daughter is in college) has come up before. That could put the Rams in play again, as they would’ve been if they’d had an opening last year. And I wouldn’t rule out the Rams doing a deal, provided they’re comfortable that Payton still has the drive he had in rebuilding the Saints. But remember, L.A. doesn’t have a ton to give after last year’s trade for Jared Goff, and the Rams sort of went down that high-profile road before with Jeff Fisher. My sense is the Saints, after 11 years with Payton, would listen if another team came calling.
3. What do the Colts do? This will be the second straight year that Indianapolis has failed to make the playoffs, and the Texans and Titans both appear to be ascending in what has been a soft AFC South. That said, I don’t think owner Jim Irsay cuts the cord with Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson. There are three years remaining on their contracts, and the team’s history suggests that the Colts would be hesitant to eat all that dough in order to make a change, plus Grigson put into motion a renewed focus on making the team younger this year.
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THREE THINGS THAT ARE ASSUMED
1. A divorce in San Diego. Chargers coach Mike McCoy survived last year, and got a one-year extension in the process to ensure he wouldn’t be a lame duck in 2016. The Chargers will finish with double-digit losses for the second straight season. Now, McCoy has dealt with horrific injury luck and the looming presence of a potential move to L.A. two years in a row, so it’s not like this is all on him. And I think the line of teams waiting to hire him as a coordinator are proof that the Bolts should think hard about this before pulling the trigger. But there is a feeling in league circles that this one is a fait accompli. Potential mitigating factor: If the Chargers are moving, it’d be tough to run a proper coaching search. Would that stop the Spanos family from making a change? Probably not.
2. The Niners are going to be making changes. The brass has already begun looking at every facet of its operation to determine what has gone so terribly wrong over the past three years. Chances are, the fix will start with a new general manager to take Trent Baalke’s place. (Eliot Wolf’s name has been bandied about here, too.) The Niners like coach Chip Kelly and what he’s done through a trying year, but his future likely won’t be determined until the GM situation is sorted out. Is that fair? Kelly was handed a bottom-three roster and the team has continued to fight, so the fair thing would be to let him find a quarterback. The truth is, it’d look a little ridiculous to drop the hammer considering the circumstances, and it wouldn’t make anyone look good to have consecutive head coach one-and-dones. But the NFL isn’t a fair place, and this will likely be a different-looking organization in 2017.
3. Something has to happen in Cincinnati. Marvin Lewis’ contract expires after 2017. Three years in a row he’s gotten a one-year extension. He’s been adamant over the past few weeks that he’s not retiring. So do the Bengals give him another one-year deal? Do they extend him long-term? Last year Lewis and Hue Jackson discussed a potential succession plan, before Lewis’ OC left for Cleveland, so it’s not as if he hasn’t contemplated walking away. Next year would be Lewis’ 15th as Bengals coach.
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THREE THINGS THAT GAMES COULD INFLUENCE
1. Playoffs or bust for Caldwell? Most people would agree that Jim Caldwell has assembled a rock-solid staff and generally done a good job since taking over in Detroit in 2014. If the Lions win Sunday, they’ll be playoff-bound for the second time in three years, the first such stretch since the ’90s. If they lose? Well, there are least some on staff who feel uneasy about their futures. By all accounts Caldwell and GM Bob Quinn have forged a great working relationship. But sometimes a new GM wants his own guy. And because 2017 is the final year of Caldwell’s contract, and someone like Quinn’s former staffmate Josh McDaniels might be off the market after this January, it seems like this would be the time for Quinn to decide if Caldwell’s the coach to whom he wants to hitch his future.
2. Bye-week interviews. Three offensive coordinators figure to be in play for a number of places—McDaniels, Atlanta’s Kyle Shanahan and Dallas’ Scott Linehan. It’s likely all three will have byes next week and thus have the chance to interview. What’s less certain is when any of the three will be available to actually hire. Would a team be willing to wait until after the Super Bowl to poach one of them? The Falcons—who waited for Dan Quinn two years ago—would be one example of the benefit of showing patience. After all, if these are viewed as 10-year decisions for franchises, what’s a couple weeks?
3. Lasting impression in Chicago and Minnesota. The Vikings and Bears played Halloween night at Soldier Field. In the time since, the rivals are a collective 3-12. They play again Sunday in Minneapolis. The future for both teams is interesting. Speculation about John Fox’s job status has run rampant the past couple months. The Vikings could be looking at some more subtle changes in the wake of their second-half collapse. In both cases, you get the feeling the final impression the team leaves will mean something.
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