It's now a week into the NFL's coaching searches, and with several possible hires participating in the wild-card round and now in the process of being interviewed, things are starting to come into focus. Certain candidates are starting to separate a bit, and some of the true intentions of teams in need are becoming more clear.
While the process remains very much in flux -- especially for the clubs that were waiting to get some time with Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, for instance -- it also is hardly out of the question that a new head coach or two is finalized in the coming days (including Jon Gruden to the Raiders, because that contract has been on the table, literally, for six years as Mark Davis chased the coach from a secret meeting in Tampa to a secret meeting in Reno to a secret meeting in the Bay Area every other offseason or so). With so few candidates who are not currently participating in the playoffs, the bulk of these moves cannot be completed (officially) until the coach's current team is eliminated,
But by next weekend the wink-wink, you-are-our-guy-we-just-can't-announce-our-married-status-on-Facebook-yet phase of these searches will be in full bloom. Here is some of what I am picking up:
- With such a slim group of candidates, multiple teams are willing to wait for New England's season to end before anointing Patriots coordinators as their new head coaches. There is an expectation the Patriots are headed back to the Super Bowl that has to be included in any search involving their coaches, similar to when the Falcons waited for Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn a few years back. If Detroit hired someone other than Pats defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, people I'm talking to around the league who are involved in many of these coaching searches will be shocked. And New England's offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, is ready to go. I would put my money on the Colts with the expectation that Andrew Luck will be a functioning quarterback in 2018.
- I reached out to several current and former NFL execs -- including many who have been involved in coaching searches -- and they all agreed that the Chiefs' debacle Saturday night was a massive setback for their coordinator, Matt Nagy, but on Monday the Bears hired Nagy as their coach, replacing John Fox. The young play-caller was part of blowing an 18-point lead at home to a middling opponent with no passing game of its own, and systematically ignoring the league's leading rusher in the process. "You can't hire him now," one grizzled front office exec said prior to the Bears hiring Nagy. "No way."
- The battle to get first crack at an interview with Wilks is real. Sources said the Giants, Cardinals, Colts and Lions all want to speak to him, which could happen soon with the Panthers eliminated from the playoffs Sunday. The Panthers will allow him to interview Monday, I'm told. Since the Panthers lost, Wilks can do more interviews early in the week.
- The Giants' first wave of interviews of men on their short list appears to be set to wrap up by midweek. They'll speak to Wilks as soon as Monday and are scheduled to talk to former Broncos interim head coach Eric Studesville on Tuesday. The Giants have other candidates who they might end up speaking to who were not on their initial short list -- with coaching experience possibly carrying the day, Jim Schwartz of the Eagles and Mike Munchak of the Steelers would apply -- but then again they might find their guy before then.
- Still trying to figure out why big-time coaches like John Harbaugh, Mike McCarthy and, now, Ron Rivera sign short-term extensions. They already have plenty of leverage and especially the guys who have won Super Bowls are going to be in demand if things go south. You can't tell me that McCarthy and Harbaugh wouldn't have more leverage right now if their deals were up after 2018 than they do with deals through 2019. (I know this would never happen in a million years, I guess, but the Packers and Ravens should trade head coaches. Harbaugh back to the Midwest; McCarthy back to the East Coast. Baltimore gets an offensive coach, finally, and Harbaugh can be the CEO Green Bay wants, and he gets a stud QB. Both coaches get big extensions with their new teams. Because barring either getting a huge new deal in the next nine months you have to think at least one is someplace else by 2019.)
- Don't discount Munchak's candidacy with the Cardinals. I know he isn't a sexy candidate and doesn't get the hype some of these other guys generate, but I continue to hear the Cardinals would ideally like to hire someone who has done this job before. Plenty of people say offensive-line coaches don't work as head coaches, but this guy was a stud player, he's a great leader, he commands a room. Arizona needs to get that offensive line straightened out once and for all.
- Getting the sense that Chuck Pagano, after a little respite here, will be open to listening on defensive coordinator options, and he'll be coveted. Baltimore loves him and wants him back, but there will be much for him to consider. I don't expect him to take 2018 off as some close to him originally expected.
- Many are assuming that Buffalo executive Brian Gaine, the Texans' former assistant general manager, is the front runner for the Texans GM job. And I don't discount that. But put me in the minority that don't believe it is totally open and shut and that Patriots exec Nick Caserio could end up having a strong say in that process before it is all wrapped up.