I’ve long maintained (and probably written) that one of the best positions to have in the NFL is that of a brand new head coach or general manager in the weeks after being hired. You’re a genius. You get to hire all your friends. Loads of new gear. New house. (Probably) new car. For that six-month window heading into the regular season, everything is largely fine, save for mishandling a mercurial superstar or the emergence of a deep skeleton from your past.
You’re also not on any lists like these. Call them “hot seat” lists, or whatever you will. I prefer to look at them as “situations coming to a critical decision point.”
Anyone can save themselves or their team in 2019 if the ball bounces the right way. That doesn’t take away from the reality of the situation: Some coaches and general managers are a long way from those initial halcyon days where every arrow is pointing up. With that in mind, here is a look at the teams, people and situations facing a critical decision point in 2019...
The Cardinals’ Power Structure
The Cardinals’ offseason was unconventional, to say the least. It’s hard to reconcile what they spent to get Josh Rosen and—after allowing his value to get torpedoed over months in the press—the return they got for him on the back end. In the minds of some scouts, it’s hard to imagine Kyler Murray in an NFL offense. In the minds of some casual observers, it’s difficult to see Kliff Kingsbury jumping from offensively productive yet middling college coach to successful NFL head coach.
Big swings sometimes produce big success, but they always produce a monumental target on the backs of those calling the shots. My two cents: The NFL’s old guard can’t wait to shove back against the legion of wunderkinds hired this offseason. Imagine if Arizona’s offense doesn’t produce the traditional Mike Leach-ian fireworks we all expect. Cardinals ownership will spend an entire season getting I told you so’d, which means that someone will have to pay the price.
The Head Coaching Position in Dallas
Jerry Jones’s patience with Jason Garrett has yet to pay the kinds of dividends the owner hoped. While last year’s post-Amari Cooper turnaround was notable, Dallas has a roster that is about to become top-heavy. Everyone, from the quarterback to the running back to the top pass defender, carries with them an ever-expanding price tag. In the time all of this talent was being developed (2014 to now), Dallas has made the playoffs three times in five years, losing in the divisional round each time.
Combine that with the fact that Jones is sitting on his hands while an offensive revolution is sweeping through the league. Years ago, this would have warranted the owner dumping a pile of cash on Lincoln Riley’s desk after the 2018 season (and still might). The fact that he’s shown restraint to this point is impressive in itself. Garrett is walking into a contract year, and while he could possibly parlay that into a John Harbaugh-esque turnaround in terms of perception, this could also be a fork in the road where Dallas decides to go in a different direction.
Everything in Washington
The minute you draft a quarterback, the clock starts. If any of the pre-draft whispers about Jay Gruden, the scouting staff and ownership being on a different page regarding Dwayne Haskins is true, blame will inevitably be placed on the person or people who didn’t put Haskins in a position to succeed in year one. I think Jay Gruden is a good head coach who might succeed elsewhere, and will certainly be a desired coordinator. His knowledge base is wide and he’s adaptable to a point. But for some owners, that’s not good enough, especially if said owner wants to shake up a franchise that has been to the playoffs once since 2013.
The Team Direction in Carolina
I think it’s a fair question to wonder what Cam Newton’s prime is, and whether the Panthers may have already seen most of it. Yes, there was that Super Bowl trip and near-undefeated season. Still, there’s an argument to be made that Newton’s athletic skill set was unprecedented for his time, and in his time as Panthers quarterback the team has won the division three times in eight years and made four trips to the playoffs. Is that as expected? Was that good enough? I could make the argument on both sides. There is a new owner, a franchise player on the second to last year of his contract and a coach with a similar expiration date. If the Saints maintain their grasp on the division, does it make sense to retool now, striking in the post-Drew Brees, Julio Jones, NFC South?
The Belichick Disciple Experiment in Detroit
Would another losing season in Detroit tip the internal perception meter on Matt Patricia? While it may seem early, I think it’s a fair question. In addition to the horrendous oversight during the background checking process, which forced the organization to rally behind him instantly, Patricia hasn’t exactly warmed over the crowd. He bristles at reporters. He was allegedly late to meetings. And while the latter two offenses are ultimately meaningless if the team succeeds, the people in charge of selling the tickets may start wondering what they have on their hands and whether it’s conducive to a marketable product.
The Belichick Disciple Experiment in Houston
Another thing that starts a clock on someone? Winning a power struggle, which is seemingly what happened (again) with Bill O’Brien in Houston. He’s now the acting general manager, piloting the ship without a GM. Nick Caserio isn’t coming (yet), and the team fired a seemingly quality GM a year into a long-term contract. If the Texans take a step back this year, with Deshaun Watson soaring into a second contract, does it make sense that the blame may be directed toward the last man standing? To be clear, I think O’Brien’s offense has made strides with Watson under center and the addition of two young offensive tackles that fit the scheme should also help. But … a season that doesn’t end with a playoff win over an opponent not quarterbacked by Connor Cook will make six straight for the franchise.
The Offensive Direction in Jacksonville
I think it’s hard to argue against the roster put together in Jacksonville. I think ownership knows this. I think that individual statistics bear this out. Sticking with Blake Bortles too long is the lingering crime (but time will tell there as well; what if Sean McVay turns him into a useful tool this preseason?). This roster is too star-studded to miss the playoffs two years in a row, especially with the addition of Nick Foles. If there is no January football, it would be hard to argue against sweeping changes on the coaching front as the team stares down another daunting rebuild.
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