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MAQB: Why Brian Flores and Matt Nagy Will Likely Get Second Chances

While 14 teams are getting ready for the playoffs, others across the league are making franchise-altering moves.

Plenty to get to, with the seasons of 18 teams over, and 14 more getting ready for the playoffs …

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• For the last few weeks, there were rumblings that the Dolphins could shake up what had become a bit of a dysfunctional setup—but few bet that Brian Flores would be the one biting the bullet. So why has he? Well, my sense is if organizational alignment was the goal, ownership would look at the stability on the scouting side, and stability on the coaching side, and make a call from there. On the former, GM Chris Grier’s worked in the organization for 22 years, and his scouting staff has remained fairly static since he was given the reins three years ago. On the latter, Flores had cycled through three offensive coordinators and three offensive line coaches, and even had multiple offensive play-callers at points this year (QBs coach Charlie Frye handled it early on, OC George Godsey later in the season). Now, the other side of that? Over the last two years, Flores’s defense was one of the NFL’s best, and the tinkering on offense was, in part, to overcome some personnel misses and the shortcomings of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. So ideally, you’d give everyone another year—unless you believe the situation is unworkable, and that’s the point, obviously, that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross got to.

I’m told communication was scarce over the last few months, and there was plenty that Flores and Grier didn’t see eye to eye on, with feelings on the longer-term future with Tagovailoa a part of that. And that’s where, over the last month, Ross felt the need to choose a side, with foreboding signs popping up at Sunday’s season finale at Hard Rock Stadium (ex-Dolphins exec Dawn Aponte, now at the league office and with a role in identifying coach and GM candidates league-wide, happened to be at the game; and Flores walked off the field together with Bill Belichick, and spent time with his old boss at the goal line near the tunnel, which caught the attention of others), and the result validating what had been illustrated for everyone. Flores leaves with a good record and a good chance to land a job elsewhere. Obviously, his offensive coordinator choice, when he gets another shot, would be scrutinized elsewhere, but Flores accomplished plenty in his three years in South Florida.

• Speaking of second chances, I do think ex-Bears coach Matt Nagy will get his eventually, based on a solid record—he made the playoffs twice in four years in Chicago, and only had one losing record (the Bears went .500 twice)—and that his team stayed engaged through what amounted to a coaching death march at the end of the year. It’s fair to look at Nagy and wonder if things had been a little more stable at quarterback, and if he’d been able to hang on to Vic Fangio for more than a year, if the final result would’ve been different. As it is? Well, I would say that if Andy Reid were to step away sometime in the near future, Nagy would be high on the Chiefs’ list to replace him. Nagy, for those who don’t know, was college teammates with Kansas City GM Brett Veach, and has maintained a lot of good relationships in the organization. And obviously, he was on the ground floor for Patrick Mahomes’s development.

• We mentioned this last week, but it’s worth reiterating that teams don’t seem to be honing in on a specific type of head coaching candidate early in the process, and that should be good news for a league office that’s been looking for teams to be more open-minded in how they approach these things (the belief is that will help with teams considering more diverse candidates). The Broncos (Dan Quinn, Jerod Mayo), Bears (Leslie Frazier) and Jaguars (Quinn, Todd Bowles) have already reached out to defensive-minded coaches, as well as guys on the offensive side of the ball. And some college names (Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald, Iowa State’s Matt Campbell) have been discussed, even in the aftermath of Urban Meyer’s flaming out in Jacksonville. Which is good for the teams in the long run in making big decisions like these, and good for coaches who don’t necessarily fit the offensive play-caller trend of recent years.

• While we’re on the topic of diversity, with Flores’s firing, the NFL’s now down to three minority head coaches (the Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, Washington’s Ron Rivera and the Texans’ David Culley). The good news? There’s a crop of new names that I think have a chance to gain momentum in the coming weeks, with New England linebackers coach Jerod Mayo the obvious one, and 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and Bucs offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich likely to get good long looks. Add to that a good group of potential second-chance candidates (Bowles, Frazier, Vance Joseph, Raheem Morris), and there’s a very healthy pipeline in place.

• The decisions from both the Bears and Vikings to clean house, after many in the league expected the NFC North rivals to keep their GMs in some capacity, could signal more involvement from ownership. Recent searches for both teams were run by the GMs and/or team execs, and as such change in those cases routinely came off as half-measures. What Chicago and Minnesota did Monday opens the chance for larger-scale change in both places—and that’s why no one should be surprised that the Bears brought in an experienced NFL exec, in Bill Polian, to help steer the process.

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• I had an awesome talk with Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence on Sunday afternoon, and you can see most of it in the morning column. But there was one thing I left out—and that was how he answered when I asked how he’d grade his own performance through his first NFL season.

“Yeah, I think I need a couple weeks to do that, to be honest,” he said. “But it’s been a crazy year, something I never envisioned. I didn’t think it would go this way. Wouldn’t change it now. I’ve learned a lot. Learned a lot about myself, a lot about football, a lot about just my teammates, all those things. Right now, I’m just more happy and excited for the future, and really proud of this group. But yeah, there’s definitely gonna be a lot of reflecting over the next couple of weeks because there’s some big things this year that I’ve learned that have gone well, haven’t gone well. I’ll just really take all that in and use it.”

It’s pretty easy to tell, just talking to Lawrence, how he was able to navigate a weird start to his NFL career and come out of it playing like he did on Sunday. He’s very, very even-keeled, something that’s showed through the last few months, as things around him worsened.

• Raiders GM Mike Mayock isn’t getting a lot of credit for the job he’s done building the roster in Las Vegas. Should he? He drafted Josh Jacobs (26 carries, 132 yards on Sunday night) in the first round in 2019; got Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow and Foster Moreau in the middle rounds; picked Zay Jones off the scrap heap; rebuilt the offensive and defensive lines on the fly; and found star pass-rusher Maxx Crosby in the fourth round. Yes, he has his misses. And to be sure, Clelin Ferrell and Damon Arnette are big ones. But for the most part, the Raiders don’t have huge weaknesses and are positioned well for the future without a lot of bad contracts on the ledger. There is merit there to staying the course for owner Mark Davis. Of course, where Davis goes with the coaching position will probably dictate what happens with Mayock specifically, and the GM spot in general.

• Part of hiring coaches is knowing they’ll be able to fill out strong staffs, and Nick Sirianni absolutely opened some eyes in that department with the job he’s done in Philly. He was able to lure defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon there with him—Gannon was one of the more in-demand coordinator candidates in the NFL last year—and leaned on his past to grab Shane Steichen to be his offensive coordinator off Anthony Lynn’s staff, after Lynn was let go by the Chargers. Gannon has quickly grown into the coordinator role, and is already attracting head coach interest from Denver. And Steichen was a vital part of putting in, and calling, a brand-new run game to fit Jalen Hurts’s skill set. The lesson? Pay attention to who the new coaches are bringing with them to their new teams over the next few weeks.

• On that one, I’ve been meaning to point this out for a few weeks: The assistants whom Josh McDaniels had identified for his staffs when he interviewed in Cleveland, Indianapolis and Philadelphia are pretty notable. McDaniels’s defensive coordinator in Indy was going to be Matt Eberflus, who wound up going to the Colts from the Cowboys to be DC even after McDaniels decided to stay in New England. Eberflus has been outstanding in that role, good enough to garner head coaching interest from other teams. And when McDaniels interviewed in Cleveland two years later, his plan was to have Gannon and now Chargers coach Brandon Staley as his co-defensive coordinators. Which also looks pretty good a couple of years out. To me, these are the sorts of things that should get owners’ attention (but often don’t).

• Give me Alabama Monday night, 30–24. (And for more on watching the game through an NFL lens, be sure to check out the morning column.) 

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