Welcome to another week of NFLTR Review! The coaching and general manager hiring cycle is in full swing and we’ve got a jam-packed issue for you to catch up on.
- Rating the desirability of each head coaching and GM vacancy
- Who the hottest candidates drawing interest are
- NFL playoff bracket
Best Jobs Available
After a relative shortage of jobs the past two years, NFL teams swung back to “normal” with seven general manager vacancies and six head coaching jobs this cycle. While there’s a glut of quality candidates available, the teams are still in competition with each other for the best ones. Different jobs have different desirability factors, with pros and cons that candidates will be weighing. The stakes are high; the NFL is not a patient league and some candidates won’t get a second chance at their dream job.
With that in mind, here’s our read on which jobs should have their pick of the best candidates available and which teams will have to do a little more recruiting to get their next coach or GM.
Head Coach Vacancies
There’s a clear top tier among the head coaching jobs available between the Chargers and the Jaguars. If you’re the next head coach in Los Angeles, you’re walking into a job that has star rookie QB Justin Herbert and a roster that’s not devoid of talent when it’s healthy. There’s a brand-new, shiny stadium that fans will be breaking in and 2021 and warm weather to top it all off.
If you’re looking for downsides, you have to play in the same division as Patrick Mahomes. And the Spanos family isn’t necessarily an upper-half ownership situation. But there are more positives and far fewer negatives than some of the other coaching situations league-wide.
Like the Chargers, the Jaguars also have the allure of a promising young quarterback for a new head coach to work with. But for as much of a slam-dunk prospect presumed No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence is viewed as, Herbert just completed one of the best rookie seasons of all time. That puts Jacksonville just a tick behind, as does the overall composition of their roster. But with an extra first-round pick plus loads of draft capital and cap space, the ingredients for a fast turnaround are there.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan raised some eyebrows this week when he said he would make it clear he had final control over the roster. It raised the specter of the type of meddlesome ownership that’s defined the struggles of teams like the Cowboys and Browns for decades. But Khan also exhibited unusual patience with his last GM and head coach, keeping Dave Caldwell for eight seasons with just one winning record in that time and promoting Doug Marrone from interim coach and keeping him for four years. Even if Khan is only half as generous with the next candidate, that’s still a long leash compared to most other teams.
It would probably be more accurate to group these last four head coaching vacancies in a tier of their own, as each possesses an attribute or two that will be a significant obstacle for an incoming candidate. It’s a pick your poison situation and different candidates will have different thoughts. The next coach of the Falcons will be taking over a roster that is aging and underperforming — not a good combination.
The flip side of that is a quick turnaround is possible if a new coach can push the right buttons. There are building blocks on the offensive line, and if they can keep QB Matt Ryan clean then Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley are as good a receiving tandem as any to throw to. A rebuild is coming sooner rather than later with Ryan but there’s a potential window in the meantime.
The Jets face an extensive rebuild and no longer have the benefit of surety at quarterback that the No. 1 pick will provide this year. There are a lot of pieces in terms of draft picks, cap space and even building blocks like LT Mekhi Becton, but New York faces a year or two before they can realistically compete.
While Jets GM Joe Douglas is highly-esteemed in league circles, a new coach would be wise to question the structure given how the last few hires have denigrated into back-biting. Organizations are only as good as the people at the top, and the tandem of Woody Johnson and his brother Christopher Johnson share much of the blame for the Jets’ struggles the past decade.
The Lions are a complete wildcard moving forward as owner Sheila Ford Hamp has seemingly kickstarted a massive organizational overhaul. The full extent of the rebuild won’t become clear until a new head coach and general manager are hired, but it could be a complete teardown to the studs.
Culture has been identified as one of the key deficiencies that has plagued the Lions and an exhaustive search for leaders to change has begun. A rebuild of that scope would seemingly come with some understanding but plenty of promises of patience have melted once the losses start coming in.
Detroit’s roster is also in dire shape. Plenty of coaches would love the chance to work with QB Matthew Stafford but it’s not clear that he’ll be a part of the team’s future. The defense is also in need of a drastic makeover. This job is not for the faint of heart.
How could a team with arguably the league’s second brightest ascending star, QB Deshaun Watson, be all the way down at the bottom of our list here? Well, not even Watson could cover up for all the flaws on the Texans’ roster this season. The Texan’s defense is horrendous and Houston has limited cap space or draft picks to fix it.
There’s also the dynamic of EVP Jack Easterby and the influence he exerts in the organization. Not even their shared New England roots could save previous HC/GM Bill O’Brien from Easterby. A new coach would presumably arrive with Easterby’s blessing, but no guarantees of staying in his good graces. Is a franchise quarterback worth navigating all the political machinations in the Houston front office? It’s a good question.
General Manager Vacancies
A lot of the same draws for the Jaguars’ head coaching situation — Lawrence, draft picks, cap space, patient owner — apply to the general manager position. While the Jaguars finished with the league’s worst record, they’re not devoid of talent or young building blocks. There’s RB James Robinson, WRs DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault, DE Josh Allen, LB Myles Jack and CB C.J. Henderson. With loads of cap space and 10 other selections besides the No. 1 pick, a new GM has the ability to engineer a fast turnaround. The
What a lot of GM candidates are looking for is support from ownership and the resources to do their job. While Panthers owner David Tepper is still a little bit of an unknown as an owner, one thing he’s shown is he’s not afraid to throw money and resources at problems. Head coach Matt Rhule got a huge salary for a college head coach making the leap to the NFL and Tepper built a practice bubble to hold the team until a new facility could be built in South Carolina.
The Panthers also showed they’re a lot closer to contending than many expected going into the year. The quarterback position remains a question mark long-term but there is an opportunity with aging quarterbacks in the rest of the NFC South. The reality is Rhule will call the shots but the potential for a successful partnership like Seattle’s tandem of John Schneider and Pete Carroll is there.
As with the head coaching vacancies, there’s a quick dropoff after the top two jobs. The Lions job carries a lot of challenges, from figuring out Stafford’s future to rebuilding the defense. But it also presents something of a blank slate for the next candidate given how much of a restart the Lions are undergoing. It’s not the worst job a GM could take. But it’s certainly not the best, either. If anything, it’s an unknown.
While the next Falcons coach will have more to work with on the field, the general manager will have to figure out the Falcons’ cap situation and what the identity of the team is in a potential post-Ryan and Julio era, even if those cap implications mean that era doesn’t start in 2021. Atlanta’s roster is incredibly top-heavy, which is a challenging but not impossible situation to navigate.
The other factor that league insiders have discussed with the Falcons job is the presence of team president Rich McKay. Blank has fiercely defended McKay’s presence as an asset but some have pointed out the danger of not necessarily having a direct line to the owner or having another powerful personnel executive passing judgment on your decisions in-house.
When looking at the Broncos general manager opening, the negatives start to add up. The ownership situation is in flux with a hedge of lawsuits between family members over the execution of deceased owner Pat Bowlen’s trust. Even though former GM John Elway has stepped back into a team president role, he’s still there looming over major decisions, like what to do with Von Miller. It’s a shotgun marriage with HC Vic Fangio to add another major voice into making key decisions. You have to figure out what to do with Drew Lock and the quarterback situation. And there are a number of key veterans and free agents who will need their status addressed with no war chest of resources like the Jaguars or Jets have to do it.
Denver’s roster isn’t devoid of talent and the Broncos would have been a lot more competitive this year if not for a rash of injuries. But the team is in this weird in-between phase with a number of expensive veterans and a roster that’s closer to average than it is good. The next general manager will have to be aware not to fall into the trap of straddling the line between rebuilding and contending and ultimately doing neither.
Organizations are only as good as the person or people at the top. I’ve written that already but it bears repeating, especially when it comes to the Washington franchise with Dan Snyder blowing out the competition for the NFL’s worst owner. The team itself isn’t bad, though the lack of viable quarterback and no high draft pick is a rare combination. But voluntarily tying yourself to Snyder is asking for trouble. Ron Rivera is the main guy calling the shots in Washington at any rate and is likely to hire someone he’s familiar with.
I had the Texans in last place here before they finally consummated their pursuit of Nick Caserio that started in the summer of 2019. Here’s the challenge he faces. An aging defense with holes so big that if it was cheese they’d have to classify it as something other than Swiss. No pick until 67 overall after his predecessor’s serial trading. A $10+ million salary cap hole from the jump. And now, a pissed off franchise quarterback.
We haven’t even discussed an owner who’s apparently in over his head and a shadowy advisor pulling the strings and whispering in his ear. So good luck, Nick.
This Week In Football
- There was more coaching news than we could possibly recap in this space here, so I really want to encourage you to check out our 2021 NFL Head Coach & GM Tracker for all of the latest updates regarding candidates and interviews. Most teams have conducted several interviews already but only one hire has been made — Houston tabbing Caserio as its next general manager. That pace should pick up as soon as this weekend.
- If we had to handicap the coaches most likely to get jobs based on who’s generated the most interview interest, Titans OC Arthur Smith, Chiefs OC Eric Bieniemy and 49ers DC Robert Saleh would top the list right now. Smith has been requested by every team with a vacancy and the Texans are the only ones who haven’t requested Bieniemy or Saleh. Bills OC Brian Daboll is another hot name but only has two interview requests to show for it right now from the Chargers and Jets.
- Other notable candidates with multiple interviews requested or completed include former Bengals HC Marvin Lewis, Colts DC Matt Eberflus and Panthers OC Joe Brady. And of course, the Jaguars still appear to be wooing former Ohio State HC Urban Meyer.
- There was a little wisp of smoke Thursday morning when a report came out that Texans QB Deshaun Watson had quietly brought up the idea of requesting a trade with some of his teammates. The Texans of course would never willingly trade Watson and it could have been nothing more than Watson blowing off some steam after a frustrating season. But that smoke thickened by the evening when more reporting came out about just how unhappy Watson is in Houston right now. There are still a ton of logistics making a trade involving Watson improbable. But if multiple high-profile trades the past few seasons have shown anything, it’s that where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
- It’s been quite a week for high-profile quarterback discontent, as the Carson Wentz saga continued in Philadelphia. There were reports that his relationship with the team is fractured beyond repair, though given the investment the two sides will try to fix things this offseason and avoid a trade. The Eagles are retaining HC Doug Pederson but his staff will undergo major shakeups, with DC Jim Schwartz stepping away and senior offensive assistants Rich Scangarello and Marty Mornhinweg not being retained.
- It was a rough 2020 season for the Patriots and QB Cam Newton, and it’s expected that their relationship will not continue in 2021. Where either side goes from here is uncertain. The Patriots pick 15th and will likely need to trade up if they covet one of the top first-round quarterbacks. The rest of the free-agent market is thin. Newton could land as a bridge quarterback with his former coach in Washington but if they’re not interested, he could find another lean market for his services.
- Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence declared for the draft this week. It’s not a shocker, as Lawrence has been Sharpied as the No. 1 pick this coming April since he won the national title as a freshman. But it does finally put to bed the thought of Lawrence staying for his senior season.
- By the measure of his job performance, Elway would have been on the hot seat some time ago if not for his status as a team legend, winning a Super Bowl as a player and helping build another championship-winning team as GM. While he won’t be fired, the Broncos will still bring in fresh blood at GM after he decided to step back to a role as team president. He’ll still be involved in some decisions but this appears to allow the Broncos to replace Elway while allowing him to save some face.
- Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa wasn’t awful as a rookie, but he wasn’t as good as the other quarterbacks taken near him last year. He was the only one to be benched, twice in fact. That led to speculation that the Dolphins could use the No. 3 pick in the draft on another quarterback but the team moved to dispel that rumor and assert their belief in Tagovailoa. Then again, they also said OC Chan Gailey was expected to be back after a mistakenly-published ESPN report but that didn’t last even 24 hours before Gailey resigned, meaning Tagovailoa will have a new coordinator in his second season.
- After coming up as a strong candidate to be the head coach at his alma mater, Boise State, Cowboys OC Kellen Moore instead ended up signing an extension to remain with the Cowboys. It’s worth noting some parallels to Eric Bieniemy, who turned down a chance to become a head coach at his alma mater, Colorado, this past offseason. Bieniemy’s patience appears like it will be rewarded soon and Moore could be a top head coaching candidate in a year if the Cowboys offense rebounds as expected.
- Raiders RB Josh Jacobs was involved in a single-car crash at the Las Vegas airport and charged with a DUI the day after the end of the regular season. Jacobs’ legal team issued the standard fevered statement proclaiming innocence, but this could open Jacobs up to a three-game suspension in 2021 under NFL discipline.
- Rams LT Andrew Whitworth has been a key part of the franchise’s success since joining the team in 2017. But he arrived in Los Angeles as a 35-year-old and every year there’s been the possibility for his retirement to leave a 6-7, 330-pound void on the left side of the line. Except for this year. Whitworth announced he plans to play in 2021 despite his major knee injury a few weeks ago.
- Washington re-signed C Chase Roullier to a four-year, $40.5 million deal that tucks him just inside the top ten at his position in average annual salary. It’s a good deal for Roullier, but a better deal for Washington.
The NFL playoff field is set and we know that the eventual winner of Super Bowl LV is one of the 14 teams remaining. But which one? Here’s our best guess at how the playoffs will unfold.
2020 Playoff Field
Super Wildcard Weekend
No. 2 Bills (13-3) vs No. 7 Colts (11-5): Buffalo has to play instead of taking a week off thanks to the new format, while Indianapolis would have become the third-ever 11-5 team to miss the playoffs without it. Bills QB Josh Allen has some playoff demons to exorcise and the Colts are a well-rounded opponent. But the Bills might be the hottest team in football right now. Winner: Bills
No. 3 Steelers (12-4) vs. No. 6 Browns (11-5): The Browns haven’t made the playoffs in 18 years. But odds are against them snapping an even longer drought for their first win. COVID-19 has knocked out HC Kevin Stefanski, G Joel Bitonio and others. Cleveland faces a sharp challenge and it’s likely the Steelers knock them out again like they did the last time in 2002. Winner: Steelers
No. 4 Titans (11-5) vs No. 5 Ravens (11-5): The Titans infamously knocked top-seeded Baltimore out of the playoffs last year and came away with an overtime win in their regular-season rematch earlier this season. The Ravens have to be itching for retribution and the good news for them is they seem to have recaptured some of their 2019 form down the stretch. Derrick Henry is a monster but this Titans defense is much more porous than last year’s version. Winner: Ravens
No. 2 Saints (12-4) vs No. 7 Bears (8-8): The Saints enter the postseason with their full complement of weapons on offense and one of the most complete and talented teams in the league again. Meanwhile, the Bears have come up short against the top teams on their schedule time and time again. Winner: Saints
No. 3 Seahawks (12-4) vs No. 6 Rams (10-6): Seattle and Los Angeles have split their two earlier meetings this year, with the Seahawks taking the most recent one in Week 16. The wildcard in the wildcard round is who the Rams starting quarterback will be, Jared Goff or John Wolford. The latter presents some interesting mobility but probably not enough to top Russell Wilson. Winner: Seahawks
No. 4 Washington (7-9) vs No. 5 Buccaneers (11-5): Each of the other teams with losing records to make the postseason has surprised with a victory once in. The Seahawks did it over the Saints with the Beastquake in 2009 and Washington HC Ron Rivera did it with the Panthers in 2014 when they beat a limited Cardinals team. The Football Team has the pass rush to get to Tom Brady, but with home-field advantage diminished due to the pandemic and potentially Taylor Heinicke starting, the Cinderella run might end here. Winner: Buccaneers
No. 1 Chiefs (14-2) vs No. 5 Ravens (11-5): These two teams met earlier this season and it was one of Lamar Jackson‘s worst games of the season. Kansas City has kind of limped into the postseason and been pushed to the brink by a number of opponents down the stretch. However, Baltimore just might not have the firepower to hang with the Chiefs for an entire game. Winner: Chiefs
No. 2 Bills (13-3) vs No. 3 Steelers (12-4): Buffalo thumped Pittsburgh earlier this season in the middle of their losing streak and overtook them for the home-field advantage, whatever that’s worth this year. The Bills are still the better, healthier team at this point and should be able to advance in a rematch. Winner: Bills
No. 1 Packers (13-3) vs No. 5 Buccaneers (11-5): Tampa Bay already took the Packers down earlier this season in one of the best performances a defense mustered against MVP-frontrunner Aaron Rodgers all year. Whether they can do it again is another matter, and Brady could have a hard time kicking the Bucs offense into gear on a frozen Lambeau Field. Winner: Packers
No. 2 Saints (12-4) vs No. 3 Seahawks (12-4): In an epic matchup between powerhouse teams, it’ll likely come down to which quarterback can summon the most out of himself and his teammates. Both Brees and Wilson have dealt with stretches of poor play but it has to be easier for the younger guy to bounce back. Seahawks by a whisker in a shootout in the Superdome. Winner: Seahawks
No. 1 Chiefs (14-2) vs No. 2 Bills (13-3): Another rematch for the Bills and one of their three losses this season. The last time the two teams played, HC Sean McDermott tried to keep his quarterback out of a shootout with Patrick Mahomes and turn the focus to running the ball. For Buffalo to win this, though, McDermott needs to trust Allen to win in a shootout and Allen has to deliver. Can he? Winner: Chiefs
No. 1 Packers (13-3) vs No. 3 Seahawks (12-4): Both teams are structured similarly in 2020 with great offenses built around elite quarterbacks meant to compensate for defenses playing at an average level at best and hoping to create a few turnovers. Green Bay’s fatal flaw that doomed them in last year’s NFC title game was its run defense but the Seahawks might not have the horses to take advantage of that. Winner: Packers
Packers vs Chiefs: This would be an elite matchup. No. 1 vs No. 1. Rodgers against Mahomes, the two clear MVP candidates squaring off. Mahomes has as much natural talent as any quarterback since Rodgers; will the old guy pass off the torch? Or hang on for one more title for himself? It’s hard to bet against the Chiefs right now. Winner: Chiefs
Nickels & Dimes
Quick-hit thoughts and observations from around the league…
Overdue for a motion update.
These are sorted by motion at the snap rate on left. Number on right is all motion (motion at snap + motion and set).
Also left number filters out spikes/kneels and I don't think right does, just FYI.
Data via ESPN's video tracking team. pic.twitter.com/nxoPxDUoat
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) December 28, 2020
These are the numbers for which offenses used motion and in what way entering Week 17. Obviously plenty to dig in to, but it’s interesting to me to note how there are good offenses at both ends of the column, either the Ravens as the most dynamic or the Buccaneers as the most static. The teams in the middle tend to be a whole lot of bleh, which might say something about the benefits of having a defined identity, whatever it is…
how i thought kliff was gonna call plays in the NFL vs how he actually calls plays in the NFL pic.twitter.com/OlnHhYhwZF
— charles (fedex slayer) mcdonald (@FourVerts) December 27, 2020
Notice the Cardinals and supposed cutting-edge innovator Kliff Kingsbury bringing up the tail end of the pack in total motion…
The Panthers offense in 2020 boasted two 1,000-yard receivers in D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson, plus two other players who topped 1,000 total yards in WR Curtis Samuel and RB Mike Davis. But that production didn’t translate to the quarterback position, as Teddy Bridgewater had a very ordinary 3,733 yards passing, 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions…
The lack of a clear red-zone weapon also hurt Carolina, as they repeatedly stalled out inside the 20 all season. Moore led the team in receiving scores with four while Samuel and Anderson each had three…
When Chase Young learned former XFL QB Taylor Heinicke could ball 👀
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) December 29, 2020
This is terrific and there’s a lot to unpack from this. People in Washington have raved about Chase Young, how he rallies the whole team on the sideline and not just the defense. He replaced QB Dwayne Haskins as a captain for good reason…
Off the top of my head, the list of quarterbacks I’d take over Trevor Lawrence right now include:
Tom Brady with NE in 2019:
— 60.8% comp.
— 4,057 yards
— 24 TD’s
Tom Brady with TB in 2020:
— 66.4% comp.
— 4,633 yards
— 40 TD’s
NE’s offensive skills/system made Brady have his second-worst season since 2009. But once his weapons were upgraded, the production skyrocketed.
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 3, 2021
Worth keeping this in mind, as this is why some people thought Brady might be done coming into this year and the same thing will be said about Newton…
Cam Newton: 74.2% on-target accuracy percentage on his throws this year. Below average receiving corps that can't pay it off.
Justin Herbert: 74.5% on-target accuracy percentage on his throws. Has Keenan Allen and Mike Williams to perform miracles.
Supporting cast matters.
— Brett Kollmann (@BrettKollmann) December 11, 2020
More food for thought…
With Anthony Lynn getting fired by the Chargers despite a four-game win streak to add to his 33-31 career record in Los Angeles, are we going to look back at Lynn the same way we do Jim Caldwell after he was fired by the Lions? Caldwell had a better record at 36-28, but there are some parallels as respected Black coaches fired for not having a high enough ceiling…
There have been at least 5 new head coaches in each of the last 10 seasons
Season New Coaches
> JAX, NYJ, LAC, DET, ATL, HOU
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) January 4, 2021
Things have slowed down considerably in the hiring cycle the past couple of seasons. It’ll be interesting to see if that changes in 2021. Some early hot seat candidates include the Bears, Bengals, Broncos, Eagles and Vikings, with the Cowboys and Cardinals worth watching…
Giants GM Dave Gettleman was popular to dunk on for the Leonard Williams trade. And if New York doesn’t end up extending Williams, perhaps it’ll be deserved. But big Dave looks a whole lot more prescient about betting on Williams’ pressure rate turning into sacks following an 11.5 sack season…
Sometimes the draft picture is the clearest now before the process starts and various agendas start to cloud things. With that in mind, the early read is that quarterbacks could go 1, 2, 3 this April, with Jacksonville taking Lawrence, the Jets taking their pick of Justin Fields or Zach Wilson and another team trading up to No. 3 with Miami to get who’s left…
Check This Out
- Fast earning a reputation as the Sean McVay of defense, Rams DC Brandon Staley is generating a lot of hype this year for his work in Los Angeles. The Athletic’s Robert Mays digs into the details of what exactly is making Staley so revolutionary compared to his colleagues.
- “When your bullshit quotient exceeds your production, you are gone.” — From the Athletic’s Michael-Shawn Dugar, Jayson Jenks, Mike Sando and Jeff Zrebiec, behind the scenes of Earl Thomas’ rapid fall.
- CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones writes one of the best criticisms yet of how Carson Wentz has handled his side of the situation with the Eagles, cutting straight to the heart of how he’s being afforded the benefit of the doubt someone like Cam Newton never has. I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between the two men, especially when seeing this photo in our library of Wentz with a towel covering his head, one of many manufactured controversies Newton’s dealt with throughout his career.
- Games are won in the trenches but great NFL content is not often made with a focus on line play. Highly-respected OL analyst Brandon Thorn of the Trench Warfare Newsletter and Establish The Run does his best to change that, and his look at the NFL’s best pass rushers is worth a read. Note how high pending free agents like Haason Reddick, Romeo Okwara and Trey Hendrickson are on the list. Double-digit sacks usually equal double-digit millions in free agency.