This is going to be a fairly restrained 2020 coaching hiring cycle. We've pointed it out in this space before, and it's pretty clear at this point there will be about a half dozen openings.
There have already been some statements from owners explaining why they aren't making changes despite there being perhaps cause for upheaval. And in what is becoming an annual rite of passage, that has already set the tone for what might be inevitable coaching and/or general manager searches less than a year from now. It doesn't take an advanced degree to determine which coaches and front offices enter the offseason with the most pressure mounting already; you can see who has the most to gain or lose.
As it stands, the Panthers and Skins have already begun their coaching searches. I don't expect the Browns, Cowboys and Jags to be that far behind, and the Giants may opt to make a coaching change as well. And that might be it. Perhaps a lopsided wild-card loss by the Vikings could prompt some action from ownership, but outside of that, things seem relatively set.
Which already sets up 2020.
You can point to a half dozen situations that will be under particular scrutiny by the time September rolls around. Several owners have already established the start of who'll be on next year's hot seats, and in other cases, the results on the field and some rumblings off the field have created an environment where change might be in the air by, say, November. Expectations will be raised and another year like 2019 likely won't be tolerated. It's already getting warm in some places.
You could have made the case in the middle of the 2018 season that Arthur Blank move on from head coach Dan Quinn and GM Thomas Dimitroff. Ditto at the end of last season. And, again, by midseason in 2019, or at the team's bye. The defense has improved a few times after Quinn has stepped back from it, and the roster ain't what the Falcons seem to think it is. But another brutally slow start in 2020 and Blank will have to be proactive. Raheem Morris has seen his star rise in that organization, the defense improved greatly under his guidance in the second half of the season and he's been a head coach before. A 1-3 start next season and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Morris get an extended run as interim head coach. Blank can't afford to have his stadium empty, and his season over, by Halloween yet again.
Their results have gone backwards, fast, after firing Jim Caldwell despite a winning record in a place where no one has a winning record. Keeping Matt Patricia for a third year seemed a stretch to some around the league, but ownership has made it clear this had better be a playoff team in 2020 … but even with a healthy Matthew Stafford that might be a stretch in that division. The Lions haven't been able to sustain anything positive under this regime and seem to still have their share of issues along the offensive and defensive lines. Big gains will be required of this group.
The honeymoon is over for GM Ryan Pace, coach Matt Nagy and recent second-overall pick Mitchell Trubisky. Their playoff run seems like a looong time ago and they'd best find a semblance of a running game and offensive identity in 2020 or they're all going to be gone. They'd best find a legit starting option to push Trubisky and should probably let him run around more next year. Can they find a run game? Is the defense regressing from its heights under Vic Fangio? Ownership is super high on Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, who has been turning down NFL teams for years but wouldn't have to sell his house to coach the Bears. If Ron Rivera doesn't find the right spot this year, returning to the Bears, where he played, would also seem like a no brainer.
I wouldn't be totally shocked if something happened in Minnesota next week. Hearing a lot of rumblings there, Mike Zimmer's team hasn't been able to go from good to great and there remain issues about how he deals with his offensive staff. Kirk Cousins and Zimmer are in their walk years in 2020 and that could well be the end for both of them as Vikings. With several teams interested in interviewing offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski for head coaching jobs, might that get ownership's attention? And would Gary Kubiak be interested in taking over as head coach? Things could get interesting there sooner rather than later, and even if they stand pat for now, 2020 will be a vital year for key players and decision makers. Ownership has given them a blank checkbook and next season might be the end of their window under current construction.
New York Jets
It's been an eventful first season in New York for Adam Gase to say the least, dating back to the firing of much of the front office in the spring. There has been plenty of headlines and drama. Sam Darnold has ebbed and flowed. The offense has not taken off the way some had expected. And the ownership situation will change considerably if Woody Johnson returns from political appointment in the UK next year. Does this team take the next step in 2020, especially with the Pats looking more vulnerable than ever? Does Darnold take a leap in terms of consistency and productivity?
Los Angeles Chargers
Anthony Lynn is a great dude and worthy coach, but that team has too much talent to be 5-11. Way too much. Yeah the injuries were a factor again, but this team needs a new offensive and defensive coordinator and I would be very surprised if Philip Rivers is back at QB. At some point they may have to do something to try to capture a fanbase in L.A., and no team in the NFL reverted as much as the Chargers this season. It's not even close. A lot of people believed they were primed to whack the Patriots in Foxboro last January and this season they were basically out of the playoff race by Thanksgiving.
More Week 17 insider notes
- Speaking of Rivers, keep hearing chatter about him ending up with the Colts. Would make a lot of sense, actually, and playing in a dome at this stage of his career would only help. I have reservations about how much he has left, and the decision making coupled with the declining arm strength could be an issue anywhere he plays. But if Andrew Luck stays retired, Rivers might be worth a look there. I expect the Colts to be movers and shakers on the trade and free agency front, as well, looking to add more sizzle to the roster, though the draft remains their lifeblood …
- What about Ryan Fitzpatrick in Vegas next year, especially if the Raiders draft Tua Tagovailoa? Trade Derek Carr, let Fitz do his thing, chucking it all over and making plays the way Jon Gruden loves to see the game played, while Tua redshirts that hip? Just a thought but I think it would be fun …
- The Packers and Patriots once again left me wanting more. Been writing for a few weeks about how I believe both could be one and done in the postseason. They continue to give me pause. Had better find another gear next month …
- The Bengals with a half decent offensive line next year to go with Joe Burrow and Joe Mixon could actually be fairly interesting …
- Will be fascinated to see how the next coaching staff handles Baker Mayfield in Cleveland. Some serious tough love is badly in order. Way too much has been done to placate him. The tenor needs to change, drastically. Way too many jump balls and holding on the ball for sacks in critical situations, again.