Week 15 of the NFL season is here, which means coaches in Pittsburgh, New England, and Philadelphia are gearing up for the playoffs and fighting for home-field advantage.
But on the other end of the spectrum, nearly half of the league’s head coaches are getting their résumés ready. The Giants have already canned coach Ben McAdoo, and at least a dozen more coaches are sweating the arrival of “Black Monday,” the day after the final regular-season game when coaching staffs are often let go.
Which coaches will be coming and going this year? And will the Patriots be affected? Here’s the buzz we’re hearing from league sources:
■ Patriots fans dreaming of Josh McDaniels and Nick Caserio one day taking the reins from Bill Belichick might want to temper their expectations. McDaniels has turned down head coaching offers in the past two years — he interviewed with the 49ers, Rams, and Jaguars last year, and could have had any of those jobs — and he will be right back in the mix this offseason.
And McDaniels and Caserio are being marketed together — two longtime friends (they played college football together at John Carroll) who have grown together in New England and learned at the foot of Belichick. They almost took the 49ers coach and GM jobs last year (McDaniels and Caserio didn’t expect Jimmy Garoppolo to eventually be available), jobs that went to Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch.
The potential openings this year will be much more attractive than last year, so McDaniels and Caserio are definitely listening. The two are not necessarily tied at the hip, but they will be considered heavily by the Giants, who cleaned house and need a GM and a coach.
■ We count a whopping 14 potential head coaching openings, and three potential GM openings. And of course, there is always a surprise firing or two every offseason. Let’s take a look:
■ In the AFC, Colts coach Chuck Pagano is all but fired after six seasons. Expect a housecleaning in Indianapolis this offseason, on the coaching staff and the 53-man roster. New GM Chris Ballard loves Chiefs special teams coach Dave Toub, but Jim Irsay had final say on the coaching staff last year and he might want a sexier hire. Ballard has been picking Jacoby Brissett’s brain about McDaniels.
Houston coach Bill O’Brien has clashed with GM Rick Smith for much of his four-year tenure, and though the Texans’ 4-9 record has more to do with quarterback play than O’Brien, a parting here seems likely, though it’s unclear whether O’Brien will be fired or walk away.
The Marvin Lewis Era is looking like it will come to a close after 15 seasons, with four division titles but no playoff wins. But the Bengals, if nothing else a model of continuity, might not make many changes other than at the top, as they are considering elevating defensive coordinator Paul Guenther to head coach. Guenther, the coordinator for the last four seasons, has been with the Bengals since 2005.
This season has been a disaster in Denver, and coach Vance Joseph is in serious danger of being one-and-done (and expect several changes on defense, as only Von Miller is safe). The Titans currently own the first AFC wild card, and Mike Mularkey likely needs to make the playoffs to save his job. The 6-7 Raiders have been one of the bigger disappointments in the NFL, and second-year coach Jack Del Rio is not guaranteed to return. And in Cleveland, the Browns announced last week after firing Sashi Brown that coach Hue Jackson will return next year. But new GM John Dorsey, speaking last week with ESPN Cleveland, refused to say unequivocally that Jackson, 1-28 as Browns head coach, will be back. Dorsey will be lobbying owner Jimmy Haslam to give him control over the coaching staff as well as the 53-man roster.
■ In the NFC, the punchless, 4-9 Bears are looking at a total housecleaning, with coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace in trouble after three seasons and a 13-32 record. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, 65, has had significant health concerns in recent years and many believe he will retire after this season.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell is in deep trouble if his team, currently the eighth seed, doesn’t make the playoffs. The same for Carolina coach Ron Rivera, whose team is currently the fifth seed but will be looking for a new GM this offseason. No playoffs for the third time in four years has put Jay Gruden squarely on the hot seat in Washington. And patience is thin in Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers haven’t made the playoffs since 2007 and badly underachieved this year in Dirk Koetter’s second season.
■ Of the openings, which ones should appeal to McDaniels and/or Caserio? The Giants’ job might not be the most attractive on paper — are the Giants keeping Eli Manning? Will the new coach be forced to take a QB with the first-round pick? Is the offensive line salvageable? — but it’s still a prime destination. The Giants are a premier organization in the country’s biggest market, and conveniently have a coach and GM opening, allowing McDaniels and Caserio to go together. This is also an organization that has Belichick’s blessing. This is clearly one to watch.
The Bears’ coach/GM gig only works if McDaniels and Caserio are in love with Mitchell Trubisky, who has shown this season that he still has a long way to go in his development.
Unlike last year, the potential openings for McDaniels have much better quarterbacks. The Colts job looks appealing, though there are long-term questions about Andrew Luck’s shoulder, and Irsay is a wild card.
And three teams with Patriots ties should have openings. Lions GM Bob Quinn can entice McDaniels with Matthew Stafford. Titans GM Jon Robinson has Marcus Mariota. And Bucs GM Jason Licht has Jameis Winston. I would rank those jobs in that order, based mostly on the QB play. I doubt McDaniels would consider the Texans or Broncos, two Patriots rivals.
■ Names to watch out for in interviews: Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard, and Stanford head coach David Shaw.
Patricia has impressed this year with the Patriots’ defensive turnaround, but still isn’t considered as hot a candidate as McDaniels.
■ And, yes, Jon Gruden. We hear he’s not happy with his “Monday Night Football” gig, and the rumors of him returning to the Bucs are very real. Gruden hasn’t coached since 2008, but he’s still only 54 years old.
Owners seeking balance of power
Roger Goodell supposedly keeps his job as commissioner, and his $40 million salary, by being the owners’ puppet and taking the heat for the league’s public relations crises.
But apparently, Goodell isn’t enough of a puppet. That’s what Jerry Jones’s fight has been all about — not Goodell’s contract extension through 2024, but reining in the league office.
Jones made some striking admissions last week at the NFL owners’ quarterly meetings in suburban Dallas. Holding a press conference at the end of the day — a responsibility that in the past has been held only by Goodell — Jones said the NFL needs to address “an antiquated constitution, an antiquated situation as to the power of the commissioner.”
“I wouldn’t get specific,” Jones said. “But we all know we’ve that we’ve had problematic aspects to our discipline, our investigations. We all know that those have been there.”
Jones, of course, didn’t seem to have any issues with Goodell’s disciplinary powers during Deflategate, but he has been furious about them over the suspension of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Many owners agree with Jones, that the NFL’s legal bills are spiraling out of control. They want to rein in the league office and reduce some of the layers of executives and lawyers. And this March, the owners will vote on whether the owners, not the commissioner, should be in charge of appointing the chairman of the compensation committee, which determines the commissioner’s pay.
Jones and the owners want total control over the league.
The owners are “the most qualified people I know to set the course . . . for the future of this league,” Jones said. “That’s going to take some constitutional changes. There’s nobody that doesn’t see the need for changes in the NFL in several areas. We’re doing a lot of things good. But there’s some areas we need to change. It’s an antiquated constitution, an antiquated situation as to the power of the commissioner — this will address that.”
Of course, the owners won’t change the league’s discipline system for free — it will be used as a bargaining chip in the next collective bargaining agreement negotiations with the NFL Players Association.
Goodell’s contract extension expires in the spring of 2024, when he will be 65. Goodell will lead the owners through the next CBA negotiations in 2021, and could step aside before his contract expires.
The next commissioner certainly won’t have as much disciplinary power as Goodell has now.
“The thing that I probably had the biggest issue [with] was how we got to the point to where that kind of decision could be made [by Goodell],” Jones said. “It’s how we got there and the circumstances were there that I want to talk about. We’re going to get to do that in that period of time when we’re talking about the commissioner’s responsibility and the constitution.”
Division road games suit Brady
This year marks Tom Brady’s 16th as the starting quarterback of the Patriots (excluding 2008), and recent games at Buffalo and Miami got us thinking — Brady now has a full season’s worth of games on the road against AFC East foes.
We did a little research to see how Brady has fared in his 16 games at New Era Field, Hard Rock Stadium, and The Meadowlands/MetLife Stadium:
■ At Buffalo: 4,490 yards (280.6 per game), 64.6 completion percentage, 38 TDs, 14 INTs, 7.95 yards per attempt, 29 sacks, 101.12 QB rating. Brady has a 14-2 record at Buffalo and seven 300-yard games (one 400-yard game).
■ At Miami: 4,003 yards (250.2 per game), 62.0 completion percentage, 30 TDs, 15 INTs, 7.24 yards per attempt, 34 sacks, 90.71 QB rating. Brady has a 7-9 record in Miami and four 300-yard games (one 500-yard game).
■ At New York Jets: 3,886 yards (242.9 per game), 61.3 completion percentage, 26 TDs, 10 INTs, 7.00 yards per attempt, 19 sacks, 90.42 QB rating. Brady has a 12-4 record in New York (5-3 at MetLife) and two 300-yard games.
Brady’s numbers at Buffalo are simply incredible. For whatever reason, the Dolphins have given Brady a lot of trouble in Miami. And the games in New York are dogfights, but Brady comes out on top 75 percent of the time.
Skipping bowls a growing trend
Christian McCaffrey’s decision to skip Stanford’s bowl game last year in order to stay healthy and prepare for the NFL Draft drew some criticism, but now it’s becoming a trend.
Several college players have announced in the last few weeks that they will skip their team’s bowl game to prepare for the draft — among them Oregon running back Royce Freeman, Florida State safety Derwin James, and the Texas trio of cornerback Holton Hill, safety DeShon Elliott, and left tackle Connor Williams.
McCaffrey’s decision didn’t hurt his draft stock, and no one should criticize these players for looking out for their best interests, particularly when these bowl games do little but line the pockets of corporate sponsors and school administrators.
The more Jimmy Garoppolo wins, the worse it is for the Patriots, who get the 49ers’ second-round pick from the trade. Garoppolo has won both of his starts, improving the 49ers to 3-11 and dropping them to the No. 4 pick in the draft entering Sunday, behind the Browns, Giants, and Colts. Garoppolo is now 4-0 as a starter in his brief career, including 3-0 on the road . . . The Seahawks have gained 4,705 yards on offense this year, and Russell Wilson has gained 4,009 of them — 3,527 passing yards and 482 rushing yards. That’s a remarkable 85.2 percent of his team’s yards. The NFL record in the Super Bowl era is 81.8 percent, by, strangely enough, former Lions quarterback Jon Kitna in 2006. Wilson also has accounted for 32 of the Seahawks’ 33 touchdowns this year (29 passing, three rushing) . . . The Browns are currently looking at the No. 1 and No. 5 picks in the draft. The Browns got Houston’s first-rounder in last year’s trade that netted the Texans Deshaun Watson . . . Of the eight current division leaders, four finished in last place in 2016 (Jaguars, Chargers, Eagles, and Panthers), and two finished in third place (Vikings and Rams) . . . John Dorsey has had an interesting first week as Browns GM. He went on the radio and ripped former receiver Kenny Britt, who was released last week after collecting $10.5 million in one season with the Browns; he took a shot at former Browns football boss Sashi Brown and his player identification skills; and said anything other than an AFC North title in 2018 is “unacceptable.” Nothing like setting expectations low. Whether he intended to or not, the bull’s-eye is now squarely on Dorsey for the 2018 season . . . Rams receiver Sammy Watkins admits he was more worried about his statistics than winning when he was in Buffalo from 2014-16. “That’s what I was chasing. That’s what I thought the league was about,” he told Bleacher Report. “I had to learn because when you’re losing, things tend to creep into your mind: I should be getting the ball more. If I do get the ball more, we’d be winning. But half the times I did have two touchdowns and 170 yards, we’re losing. I found out that, hey, the fun is in the winning.” . . . The NFL has released its dates for the 2018 calendar: The league year begins on March 14, the annual owners meetings are late March in Orlando, the draft is April 26-28 at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, the Hall of Fame Game is Aug. 2, roster cutdowns come Sept. 1, and the regular-season Kickoff Game is Sept. 6.
Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.