With "Black Monday" falling on New Year's Eve and some owners preferring to wait until after the holiday to meet with coaches and general managers, the head coaching changes are expected to come in a few waves, with a half-dozen coaches likely to learn their fate on Sunday night or Monday morning and then other moves occurring through early January.
After surveying with execs, team sources and agents, there is a strong expectation that Andy Reid (Eagles), Norv Turner (Chargers), Romeo Crennel (Chiefs), Pat Shurmur (Browns), Ken Whisenhunt (Cardinals) and Mike Mularkey (Jacksonville) will be out shortly after the season ends. Of that group, league sources said Reid, Turner, Crennel and Shurmur are all certain to go and are bracing for that outcome (Reid is prepared to leave Philadelphia even should ownership opt to try to keep him). And with the Jaguars preparing to relieve general manager Gene Smith, there is a possibility that Mularkey, who is completing just his first season on the job, is retained until the new GM makes a determination on the coaching staff.
Mike Munchak (Titans) and Chan Gailey (Bills) have owners who do not live in the state in which their teams play, and those situations could linger awhile. Ron Rivera (Panthers) could retain his job pending the conclusion of his team's general manager search (former GM Marty Hurney was relieved of his duties early this season). Ultimately, Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is seen a favorite to replace Rivera should he be let go.
And Lovie Smith (Bears) will be further imperiled should his team fail to get into the postseason. Chicago needs a win at Detroit and a loss by Minnesota to qualify after starting the season 7-1. Smith has one year left on his deal.
Meantime, while there has been mounting speculation about the job security of Rex Ryan (N.Y. Jets), Jason Garrett (Dallas), Jim Schwartz (Detroit), and Dennis Allen (Oakland), league sources said those teams are not planning to make any changes at this time. Possible general manager changes in New York and Detroit could complicate matters for those coaches later in this offseason, but at this point no moves are anticipated.
Of the group of head coaches to be let go, league sources anticipate Reid to have numerous opportunities, while Whisenhunt and Smith would also get head coaching interviews. The rest of the group are likely to be in the hunt for coordinator jobs. Turner will be hotly sought after for several openings, New York and Baltimore possibly among them. Shurmur will be a hot coordinator as well, and league sources expect the Vikings to be among the teams to pursue him.
Eagles and Browns will pursue Oregon coach Chip Kelly aggressively
As we reported last week, Kelly is the prime target of the Eagles with Reid set to depart. Many in the league are bracing for an intriguing struggle for Kelly's services to emerge between Philadelphia and the Browns, who are now run by former Eagles president Joe Banner.
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As one source with ties to Kelly pointed out this week, it's still roughly 50/50 that Kelly leaves college, and several execs said this week they have heard that Kelly might be only lukewarm at best about the Philadelphia opening. If the Eagles do not land Kelly, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is also high atop their wish list, league sources said. But that, too, might not be the most attractive opening for him, and it will be a daunting chore for anyone to replace Reid on that rebuilding club.
With most expecting Nick Saban to remain with Alabama (Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam would have interest in him, sources said), Patriots coordinator Josh McDaniels is expected to merit strong consideration for the Browns' job as well. Some believe that, should the Eagles be unable to land Kelly or Gruden, Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien would be a target for them.
Reid, as we first reported weeks ago, would love to land in San Diego, where he lives, but many execs believe the Chargers might go in a less high-profile manner for their next coach. Kansas City is also a team that could suit Reid, sources said.
In addition to Kelly and O'Brien from the college ranks, Syracuse coach Doug Marrone is seen as a viable NFL candidate by some. He could get interviews for jobs this offseason and, while Jim Mora has only been at UCLA for one season, his past credentials in the NFL could lead to overtures from teams in the coming weeks.
Jets to keep Rex Ryan; Mike Tannenbaum could be out as soon as Monday
Jets owner Woody Johnson does not intend to fire head coach Rex Ryan, according to league sources but is highly unlikely to retain Mike Tannenbaum as his general manager.
As we first reported last week, Johnson was quietly gauging whether some candidates would have interest in serving as his general manager with Tannenbaum remaining in a salary-cap capacity. Those overtures have been largely rebuffed, sources said and, at this point, Tannenbaum could be let go this week. Ryan, who is generally held in high regard by his players, has also reached out to those whom he trusts to ascertain a group of potential new general managers whom he might be able to work well with, sources said.
[More on the Jets: Team hires search firm to land new GM]
In what has been a wildly dysfunctional season for the Jets, this frayed ending does not come as a surprise to many around the league. It has been a topic of discussion since the summer as to how the Ryan/Tannenbaum relationship would hold up if the team fell far below its expectations -- an outcome, which, again, is not a surprise to many. Tannenbaum shares a strong relationship with Johnson. But with the team in freefall, ownership knows changes must be made.
Houston's college scouting director, Mike Maccagnan, is someone the Jets are high on. But like several top candidates, accepting any position with Tannenbaum and another former Jets GM, Terry Bradway, still working for the team is seen as a deal-breaker. Some former NFL general managers, like Jerry Angelo and Randy Mueller, would take the job under such constraints, sources said, but Johnson is not expected to go that route. Ultimately, parting with Tannenbaum might be unavoidable as he restructures the franchise.
With Ryan safe, other staff changes are expected, however. Offensive coordinator Tony Sparano has failed, and Tannenbaum was a major proponent of that hiring, sources said, while Ryan is in favor of staff changes with quarterback Mark Sanchez floundering in 2012 and the unit lacking direction. Ryan would support the hiring of an established coordinator, with more playcalling acumen, sources said, with San Diego head coach Norv Turner, set to be fired this week, likely atop that wish list.
Chargers and Cardinals expected to stay in-house for GM openings
San Diego will part with general manager A.J. Smith this week, league sources said, and the Cardinals are mulling removing long-time general Rod Graves from that position, sources said (though Graves would be expected to stay in some other capacity if that move is made).
In both instances sources continue to say that the most likely replacements are already on staff. Much has been made of San Diego's high regard for Jimmy Raye, the team's director of player personnel, and he could well be promoted in Smith's departure, league sources said. The Chargers will be restructuring their organization as well, with John Spanos, San Diego's director of college scouting, getting a new position. Owner Dean Spanos, John's father, is transitioning to a point where his son eventually takes over running the franchise as owner, perhaps as soon as 2-3 years away.
So, John Spanos will be getting a title and position, perhaps a team president-type role, in which he does not report to the new general manager. Sources said Dean Spanos is likely to concentrate first on filling the general manager position before launching into a coaching search.
Graves has been with the Cardinals since 1997 and helped the team reach unparalleled heights with a recent Super Bowl appearance. The Bidwill family has long appreciated his work but assistant general manager Steve Keim is also seen as a rising star. He was promoted last year, and sources said he is being considering for the general managers title there.
As for other general managers who could be gone, Gene Smith (Jaguars) and Tom Heckert (Browns) will be let go, league sources said. Scott Pioli (Chiefs) is also very likely to be out. Ownership is mulling changes with the front offices in Buffalo (Buddy Nix) and Tennessee (Ruston Webster) as well, though those decisions may not be finalized right away. And several league sources believe the Lions could reshape their front office as well, with longtime exec Martin Mayhew possibly in a different role.
Harrison likely playing his final game for Steelers; LeBeau expected back
The Steelers have undergone some change on defense in recent years and, with that unit getting older in key spots, more change is ahead. The team, which has parted ways with beloved linebackers like Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene in the past, has a difficult decision looming with Harrison and some in the organization do not believe he will be back for 2013.
Harrison, who has been hampered by injury problems in recent years, is set to make $6.57 million next season (and count $10 million against the cap) and the Steelers have given linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons big extensions in recent years and are reluctant to tie up too much money in one position. They also want to create more playing time for young linebackers like Jason Worilds, and, at the time Harrison's deal was constructed, sources said, internally targeted 2013 as the time in which he was likely to move on.
Small-market teams like Pittsburgh must be particularly calculated about the contracts and investments. Safety Troy Polamalu, set to make $7.5 million next season, has rarely played since getting his extension and has slowed down, though sources said he is expected back for 2013, which could be his final season there.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau must decide his future again as well, as he has earned the right to stay on as long as he likes and he has indicated he wants to coach in 2013. LeBeau will sit down with head coach Mike Tomlin soon to formalize that decision, though Keith Butler, the heir apparent to LeBeau, has been a little antsy, sources said.
Pittsburgh failed to reach the postseason, and was dumped in the first round a year ago. The defense ended up statistically back among the best in the NFL, and was strong down the stretch, but lacked the game-changing plays, menacing sack presence and pivotal turnovers that have defined its greatness over the years. And guys like Harrison, Polamalu, and Casey Hampton are nearing the end. It was startling to see the Pro Bowl teams announced this week and not see a single Steeler on the AFC defense.
Mike Vick won't take a paycut to stay with Eagles
Eagles quarterback Michael Vick will make what is likely to be his final start for the team today. Vick, set to make $15.5 million next season, will not renegotiate his deal to stay with the Eagles, sources said, and is expected to command significant interest on the free-agent market.
The Eagles are about to embark on a coaching search and are not inclined to pay Vick what he is due to make after what has been a lost season for the team. They played rookie Nick Foles down the stretch and are looking at major changes to the staff and roster this offseason. Vick could command a deal in the $10 million range on the open market, given the dearth of options at quarterback in free agency and the draft, and given the large number of teams in the market for a passer. Buffalo and Oakland wanted to sign Vick when he was reinstated to the league, and Joe Banner, who helped bring him to the Eagles when serving as team president there, is now running the Browns, who need quarterback help.
Injuries have limited Vick the past two seasons, and Philadelphia's battered offensive line exacerbated those issues. Going to a team with more solid protection would help, and with the spread offense in vogue these days, there should be plenty of options for Vick. Expect the Eagles to part with him soon, as $3 million of his deal become fully guaranteed if he is on the roster in February.