The regular season is complete, which means the NFL coach hiring season is underway. And while you may be clutching a bottle of cheap André champagne preparing to count down to the new year and trying to forget that you bought an ungodly expensive Peloton bike that you’re never going to use for Christmas (riding a bike as an adult… pretty boring!), the rest of the NFL world is busy politicking for new, better jobs.
This hiring cycle has already featured some surprises. Dan Quinn and Thomas Dimitroff are staying in Atlanta. The Jaguars’ power brokers are also back. Jerry Jones and the Cowboys are still unsure what, exactly, they want to do. It’s a fascinating period where anything can happen.
As 2019 comes to a close, here are the five biggest questions we have now on the coaching front…
1. What are the Browns planning for their next organizational structure?
Sashi Brown was promoted to run the Browns’ football operations in 2016, and the organization was sold as a three-way split between the personnel department, the coaching staff led by Hue Jackson and Brown, an experienced mediator used to solving complicated disputes. On paper, it was brilliant, and so was Brown’s plan to fast-tank the club into competitiveness, which he managed to do over the course of a few short seasons.
When the assets were ripe for return, Brown was fired and the team installed a more traditional general manager in John Dorsey and gave him carte blanche to spend the team’s trove of picks and hire its next head coach after Hue Jackson.
Now, the team is at a crossroads again. They’ve tried having a team president-type figure or football czar. They’ve tried to build themselves like the Patriots, Packers, Saint Louis Cardinals and Oakland Athletics. Nothing seems to be able to penetrate the lingering toxicity of the market.
The report du jour from Tuesday was that they’ve fired Dorsey in order to clear the deck completely for Ohio-native Josh McDaniels’s arrival from New England. McDaniels, who has long been a favorite of the Haslams, would obviously prefer a modified version of the Patriots’ setup, which gives him significant say in personnel and tight alignment with whoever carries the top personnel title.
The report makes some sense in that the Patriots were reportedly enamored with Baker Mayfield before the draft, and McDaniels runs the side of the ball that Mayfield would play on. New England liked Odell Beckham as well.
The problem? McDaniels has turned down his share of marquee gigs in the past and knows this is his last chance to get a head coaching job in the NFL… especially after leaving the Colts at the altar two years ago and running back to New England. Would he really stake his future on the Haslam family in Cleveland?
2. What is holding up the Cowboys’ divorce with Jason Garrett?
The longer Jason Garrett remains the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, the longer Jerry Jones has to wait to begin requesting interviews with future candidates. There are three different scenarios that I can imagine at the moment:
• Garrett is legitimately making a push to save his job, and it’s working. A pair of two-hour meetings on Monday and Tuesday did not result in his ouster, while a head coach was hired in Washington and a flurry of interview request permission slips began to blanket every front office in the league. Jones is behind the scenes trying to figure out a way to spin this to an obviously dejected fanbase hoping for a change.
• Jerry Jones knows who he wants to be the Cowboys’ next head coach and is waiting for that person to give him the green light. This would be a more sensible answer if we’d written this a week ago, back when Dan Mullen was still preparing the Florida Gators for the Orange Bowl and Lincoln Riley was still getting the Oklahoma Sooners ready for a beatdown against LSU. Unless scattered reports of Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott making the leap are true, or Jones is making some wild play for the trifecta of Ed Orgeron, Joe Brady and Dave Aranda at LSU (which, honestly, would be an incredible staff; I would hire Aranda to be a head coach in the NFL now), it would be hard to fathom what exactly for what he’s waiting. Bye weeks for top coordinators are coming up (Greg Roman, Don Martindale, Eric Bienemy, Mike McDaniel, etc.), and the window to get in line is closing fast.
• Jones is emotional and knows he’s running out of time but doesn’t care. Maybe he’s worried Garrett would walk right out the door and into a five-year deal with the rival Giants, which is a thought he’s expressed publicly before. Maybe he simply cares for Garrett and can’t bring himself to do it. Maybe there is an element of allowing the dust to settle, believing that good coaches will still be available outside of the frantic window and they’re worth waiting for.
3. How do the Giants recover from a bizarre Dave Gettleman press conference on Tuesday?
I agree with Charles McDonald over at the Daily News, who said that the most alarming part of Dave Gettleman’s long-awaited press conference on Tuesday was that he doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on how the compensatory pick formula works. While the Giants will likely sign Leonard Williams, it will end up being over market price because Williams has an extraordinary amount of leverage given he was traded for. If they let him go, Gettleman’s claim that part of Williams’s compensation (third- and fifth-round picks) gets canceled out when the compensatory pick comes back isn’t necessarily true. Especially if the Giants plan on spending in free agency.
I wrote this week that the Giants opening is the best opening in football. That is still true. But privately, the organization is going to have to head off some of Gettleman’s public comments during interviews with prospective coaches. I don’t think Gettleman’s presence is significant enough to deter a good coach from taking the job. I do think that at some point, a coach may pull John Mara and Steve Tisch aside and say Hey, can we tone that down a little bit?
I think that Gettleman is used to operating as a general manager in a smaller market. In general, I think he’s more comfortable operating in a conversational, freewheeling style of speech that is fine in almost every setting except for that of embattled football executive facing questions for the first time in six months. If that is the only thing that needs to change significantly, the Giants aren’t in horrible shape.
4. Is Jacksonville making the right decision by sticking by Doug Marrone and Dave Caldwell?
Yes, in short.
I think owner Shad Khan and Tony Khan have done a solid job of getting to know the pulse and rhythm of their organization before uprooting it. Has the team missed on some players? Yes. So has every other general manager in football. Have they found significant value in the late rounds? Yes.
Giving Caldwell and Marrone the chance to operate a little more freely can help stabilize a franchise that has pockets of elite talent and could be good enough to compete in a wide-open division next year. At the least, it shows a willingness to target what the problems in an organization actually are, and not taking the easier step of just firing everyone.
5. Would LSU’s Joe Brady really make the leap to the NFL?
The report that Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale would target LSU passing game coordinator Joe Bradyas his offensive coordinator for a prospective staff doesn’t seem like huge news—but it is. Brady’s work revamping the long-dated Tigers offense has been nothing short of miraculous this season. It’s created the foundation for a Heisman Trophy campaign and National Championship bid.
To go a bit deeper: Brady practices daily against one of the most revered defensive coordinators in football, Aranda. His knowledge base would be attractive to a defensive-minded head coach and would instantly make a middling franchise difficult to contend with on one side of the ball.
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