The NFL regular season has just three weeks remaining, which means two things — the playoffs are around the corner, and a bunch of coaches and front office executives are about to be out of jobs.
The hiring rules are a little different this year. Teams that already have fired their coaches can start interviewing candidates over the final two weeks of the regular season, provided the candidates have permission from their teams. The NFL’s Rooney Rule also now requires teams to interview at least two external minority candidates for all head coach, general manager, and coordinator vacancies.
The NFL averages six or seven head coaching vacancies each year, and the 2022 offseason should be no different. There should also be four to six GM openings.
Let’s take a look at the teams that have a decision to make at head coach and GM. This is based on discussions with league sources and my reading of the tea leaves:
▪ Jaguars: We already know they need a new coach after firing Urban Meyer this month. The expectation is that GM Trent Baalke is also going to go as part of a full housecleaning. The Jaguars have the NFL’s worst winning percentage since Shad Khan bought the team in 2012 (.259), but this should be an attractive job. Coaches will be lining up to work with Trevor Lawrence, and the Jaguars also have plans for a new practice facility and team headquarters.
▪ Raiders: Another team that already has a head coaching vacancy, and GM Mike Mayock is probably on his way out, too, after three seasons. The Raiders probably need a complete reboot after the Jon Gruden fiasco, and Mayock’s draft record has been spotty.
▪ Bears: The 4-10 Bears appear likely to fire head coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace after their third straight non-winning season, and seventh season under Pace without a playoff win. The Bears need to start over and find a new mentor for Justin Fields.
▪ Giants: They are the fourth team that could do a clean sweep of both the head coach and GM. It seems fairly certain that GM Dave Gettleman is out after compiling a 19-43 record in four seasons. The bigger question is with second-year coach Joe Judge, who isn’t delivering any better than Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur did. Judge has stumbled to a 10-20 record, and quarterback Daniel Jones has gone backward. I think the Giants want to be patient with Judge, but it’s never a great idea to bring in a new GM who wants to rebuild, and pair him with a coach who is on the hot seat and desperately needs to win. It might be better to just rip off the bandage now with Judge.
▪ Vikings: They actually hold the NFC’s final playoff spot at 7-7, but that alone may not be enough to save coach Mike Zimmer’s job. He has compiled a respectable 71-54-1 record in eight seasons, with three playoff appearances and a couple of postseason wins. But their one trip to the NFC Championship game was a disaster, and they have gone backward the last two seasons. Zimmer’s tenure may have run its course.
▪ Broncos: They are in the playoff hunt at 7-7 but are 13th in the AFC, and coach Vic Fangio hasn’t been able to produce a winner with a 19-27 record in three seasons. The only thing that may save Fangio is that the Broncos are expected to be sold this spring, and a new owner who takes over in, say, March or April may want to wait a season before bringing in a new coach.
▪ Seahawks: One bad season isn’t going to get Pete Carroll fired. But if Russell Wilson does force his way out this offseason, don’t be surprised if Carroll, 70, decides to hang up his whistle instead of undergoing a rebuild.
▪ Texans: I don’t expect David Culley to be fired, though of course anything is possible with a three-win team. But the Texans didn’t really have expectations this year, played most of the season with a rookie third-round quarterback, and at least have been more respectable than the Jaguars. The Texans first have to figure out what to do with Deshaun Watson and their future at quarterback, and then can probably find a new coach in 2023.
▪ Panthers: Another situation that bears watching. First-year GM Scott Fitterer is safe, but coach Matt Rhule is just 10-20 in two seasons, and owner David Tepper doesn’t seem to be the most patient type after spending a record $2.25 billion on his team. The Panthers turned a 3-0 start into 5-9 and have burned through a lot of money and players at quarterback.
▪ Dolphins: The Dolphins have turned around their season, but if they fall short of the playoffs, someone is probably going to have to take the heat. It likely won’t be coach Brian Flores, but GM Chris Grier doesn’t seem to be on as solid ground.
▪ There’s often a surprise vacancy or two. Will Mike Tomlin step away from the Steelers after 15 seasons? Will Bruce Arians call it quits to take care of his health? Will Sean Payton get himself traded to another team and create an opening in New Orleans? If we knew these answers, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
There are many prime candidates
The most popular candidates are often those with backgrounds with quarterbacks and offensive play-calling, but some teams value experience, defensive prowess, or youth.
“The big thing with owners is: Figure out what you want,” former Colts coach Tony Dungy said by telephone this past week. “Then we can give you a lot of assistance in looking at who’s out there, as opposed to just saying, ‘Eric Bieniemy should be hired because he’s good.’ He is good, but he may not be what you’re looking for.”
▪ Offensive coaches: There is no shortage of good candidates for teams looking for a new coach for their young quarterback. The only candidate who has won a Super Bowl as a head coach is former Eagles coach Doug Pederson, who should have several interviews this hiring cycle and is probably a favorite to get a job.
Bieniemy, the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator, will once again be in the mix. But the fact that he’s not a play-caller nor a former quarterback has held him back before, and may again.
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels should get interviews after having a terrific season with Mac Jones. But he still has the skeletons of his Denver and Indianapolis experiences. And Patriots assistants also don’t seem to have as much cachet these days after Matt Patricia and Joe Judge have faired so poorly as head coaches.
Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll was close with the Chargers job last year that went to Brandon Staley, and he should be in the mix for jobs this year. Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, and Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett will be heavily involved. And former Colts and Lions coach Jim Caldwell could be a good choice for a team such as the Jaguars that needs to develop a quarterback and doesn’t want much drama.
▪ Defensive coaches: Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles deserves more credit for the job he did as Jets head coach, and he should be a top candidate this year. Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier also should be a top candidate, and could be a good fit in Chicago. Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus look ready to take the next step. Saints defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has done a terrific job, though his 8-28 record as Raiders head coach is a hindrance. Patriots linebackers coach Jerod Mayo is viewed as an up-and-comer who could get an interview or two.
▪ The last few years, college coaches such as Iowa State’s Matt Campbell, Stanford’s David Shaw, and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald emerged as candidates. But with the disastrous performances of Urban Meyer and Matt Rhule, I don’t expect NFL teams to be hot on college coaches this year.
▪ One name to watch: Colts special teams coordinator Ray “Bubba” Ventrone, the former Patriots player and assistant coach. He is a rising star and assumed a lot of the head coaching duties when Frank Reich was out with COVID-19 in training camp. Ventrone could start getting interviews this year and will probably be a head coach within the next few.
▪ For GM candidates, the Patriots’ Eliot Wolf is expected to get interviews after spending the last two years as a consultant in Foxborough. Several assistant GMs could be on the verge: the Bills’ Joe Schoen, the Chiefs’ Mike Borgonzi, and the Buccaneers’ John Spytek. The Colts have two top candidates — assistant GM Mike Dodds and college scouting director Morocco Brown, who almost got the Falcons job last year. ESPN analyst Louis Riddick should again get interviews. Former Texans GM Rick Smith may also get back in the NFL in a team president-type of role.
Godwin hit hurt Brady and Bucs
Tom Brady was not happy about the hit that knocked Buccaneers receiver Chris Godwin out for the season last week with a torn ACL.
“Chris got hit in the knees yesterday, which is a play I think they ought to take out of the game of football from a receiver standpoint,” Brady said on his “Let’s Go!” podcast. “It needs to be addressed and it needs to be really thought out. It really impacts guys’ careers. It’s a tough rehab. You tear your ACL, that’s a lifelong injury, you know?”
The hit was eerily reminiscent of the one Rob Gronkowski took in 2013 from Browns safety T.J. Ward, which also tore Gronk’s ACL. And Brady is probably worried that losing Godwin will have a Gronk-sized impact on the Buccaneers’ chances of repeating as champions. Godwin leads the Buccaneers with 98 catches for 1,103 yards, and his 127 targets are 27 more than the next Bucs receiver.
The Buccaneers have suddenly turned into a walking M*A*S*H unit. Godwin is out for the season, Mike Evans has a shoulder injury, Leonard Fournette is out for the rest of the regular season, Giovani Bernard went on injured reserve, and linebacker Lavonte David is also out for the rest of the regular season. The result was an ugly 9-0 loss to the Saints last week, just the third shutout for Brady in 359 career games.
The Buccaneers can probably get by for the next three games, as they just need one win to clinch the NFC South title. But the No. 1 seed is all but gone. And it’s starting to feel like the 2013 or 2015 Patriots, who were great in the regular season but petered out in the playoffs because they were decimated by injuries.
Some Pro Bowl nods off the mark
The Pro Bowl is a popularity contest more than a true reflection of the best players in the NFL (the All-Pro lists are much more accurate). That said, Pro Bowls still are important milestones for teams and agents to use in contract negotiations, incentives, and in helping determine the fifth-year option for first-round picks.
A few notes on this year’s Pro Bowl teams:
▪ Didn’t agree with two of the six quarterback choices. In the AFC, there is no way that Lamar Jackson, who ranks 12th in the conference in passer rating, deserves to have made it over Joe Burrow, who is the highest-rated passer in the AFC and whose Bengals are in first place in the AFC North. And in the NFC, Kyler Murray has been great, but Matthew Stafford is second in the NFL in touchdown passes (35) and passer rating (108.2) and deserved the nod more.
▪ Murray’s Pro Bowl nod is his second, which means that his fifth-year option in 2023 will now be equal to the 2022 franchise tag for quarterbacks. That should be a nice payout of about $29.7 million, according to former agent Joel Corry of CBS.
▪ Patriots kicker Nick Folk was snubbed. His 34 field goals and 133 points lead the NFL by a healthy margin. And Folk is perfect from less than 50 yards this year, and 5 for 8 from 50-yards plus. Folk was a Pro Bowler as a 23-year-old rookie and should have gotten his second invitation as a 37-year-old veteran.
▪ Three offensive linemen on the Buccaneers made the Pro Bowl — right tackle Tristan Wirfs, left guard Ali Marpet, and center Ryan Jensen. No offense to all three players, but this is one of the clearest examples of how much a quarterback can help his own blocking.
The NFL’s new testing rules, in which only unvaccinated and “targeted” players would be subject to testing, still resulted in 158 players and two head coaches testing positive between Monday and Thursday. The new rules require players to self-report symptoms, and increase the likelihood that asymptomatic players are walking around team facilities undetected. Yet NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said he isn’t concerned. “We’ve really not seen this phenomenon that people have discussed, which is asymptomatic people in the facility spreading virus to others,” he told NFL Network on Thursday. “What we’ve seen consistently is when people have symptoms, that seems to be when they’re contagious to others.” … A few important offseason dates: The NFL Combine is March 1-7; free agency begins March 16 (and the negotiating period starts March 14); offseason programs begin April 4 or April 18; and the NFL Draft is April 28-30 in Las Vegas … Entering Week 16, only five of 32 teams had been eliminated from playoff contention. And it’s the first time since 1993 that only one team (Packers) had clinched a spot. Increasing the regular season by a week certainly plays a factor … Colts running back Jonathan Taylor entered Saturday night’s game against the Cardinals with a chance to join John Riggins (1983) and LaDainian Tomlinson (2004) as the only players in NFL history with a rushing TD in 12 straight games in one season … Gronkowski probably does not like seeing Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins across from him at the line of scrimmage. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Gronk has just three catches for 31 yards on 15 targets in his last five games against Jenkins … The 2-12 Jaguars are in line for the No. 1 draft pick for the second year in a row, which has happened just four times: 1976-77 Buccaneers, 1986-87 Buccaneers, 1999-2000 Browns, 2017-18 Browns … Looks like Burrow agreed with my ranking of the 30 NFL cities as travel destinations, in which I listed Cincinnati last. “Fortunately, there’s not a ton to do in Cincinnati,” Burrow said Wednesday when asked about players staying safe. “Nobody is going out to clubs and bars and getting COVID every weekend.”
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.