There was a prevailing narrative making the rounds in NFL circles last month that perhaps this would be a tranquil firing/hiring cycle in the league. Profits were soaring again, the expanded schedule and expanded postseason were keeping more teams viable deeper into the season, and keeping owners relatively content to stand pat, so the theory went.
There wasn't the most robust list of candidates to choose from, the crazy coaching carousel in the college ranks had taken some coaches who NFL teams have been at least monitoring off the board, and most of the really putrid clubs were only a year or two into their current coaching regime, which might keep those decision-makers inclined to ride it out.
Only now I'm not so sure.
In fact, talking at length to several people who will be intimately involved in this process – either hiring coaches or representing coaches likely to be hired or fired – I am convinced that this year will be like almost all of the others. A good half dozen teams will make changes, as is the norm. There is the possibility for a surprise or two beyond that, and the idea long floating around the industry that only three or four teams will shake things up will prove to be naïve.
As a disclaimer, I'm not rooting for any of this. I merely chronicle it, and I have definitely detected a shift in the prevailing thought of those who do this for a living about just how many organizations will be seeking new coaches and/or general managers a few weeks from now. There remains debate as to how many franchises will tap into the new hiring rules, allowing for virtual interviews to take place with current NFL assistants during the final two weeks of the regular season, but ultimately these things tend to come in waves, in a copycat league, and once four or five teams are looking for new leadership, the odds suggest a few more will follow suit.
Certain situations are starting to generate more heat than others, and time is starting to run out for some in positions of power. Certainly, there are a few situations that have changed dramatically from where things stood at the midpoint of the season – take the surging Dolphins, for instance – but there are also several other coaches who were already in peril at the start of last month and are under even more fire now.
Here are some that are being monitored closely:
Las Vegas Raiders
Interim coach Rich Bisaccia always faced a difficult task holding that thing together after all the adversity the Raiders have faced. And GM Mike Mayock's draft record had put him under intense scrutiny as well. Derek Carr isn't looking like a franchise QB, and Mark Davis is going to have a very busy 2022 reshaping his organization perhaps across the board, needing to fill top positions on the business side of his operation too.
There is a strong consensus among those in the industry, and many close to Bears ownership, that Matt Nagy will be out and, depending on which organizational hierarchy and flow chart they decide on, GM Ryan Pace as well. It's at a boiling point with the fans, and expectations are not being met. It would be shocking if this duo was kept in place.
Mike Zimmer had a mandate to make noise in the playoffs this season, with ownership doubling down on his roster and spending big again to keep pricey veterans in place. His defense continues to slide, Zimmer continues to wear out players and coaches with his caustic manner, and losing to the winless Lions – allowing a long TD drive in the waning seconds – is going to be nearly impossible to overcome. At 5-7, it's statistically possible to get to the postseason in a weak NFC and make something happen in January … but it's also possible a loss Thursday night prompts an in-season change. If I was Minnesota and I went that route, I'd throw a Hail Mary to Gary Kubiak, who technically retired but is assisting his son, Klint, the Vikings' offensive coordinator, to be interim head coach and see what happens. He has oodles of head coaching experience and was with the Vikings the past two years. They're running his offense for goodness sake. Maybe he could salvage something.
Anytime a team has been poised for sale, for a long time, at any particular offseason, it's going to create a climate of change. How quickly a sale can be finalized remains to be seen, but early 2022 has long been circled at the league office and among those who oversee and finance franchise sales as a critical juncture for the Broncos. Vic Fangio's performance has been under review at points in the past, and while 6-6 isn't failure by any stretch, Fangio has never exactly put a stranglehold on this job for the long-term. It would surprise many in the coaching industry if a change is not made.
If there is one true positive that Urban Meyer has brought to the Jaguars, please point it out. It's been a disaster since the spring, nothing is trending in the right direction, and, most importantly, first overall pick Trevor Lawrence is not developing. Any hopes Meyer would be a cash grab and keep fans engaged through another rebuild is long out the window; he has been a source of controversy and the stands are empty – again – and this franchise looks as lost as ever. Which is saying something. Meyer is going to want to whack a bunch of assistants at the end of the season, and I hear things are thorny between him and GM Trent Baalke and this has been a total disaster. Whether that's enough to convince Shad Khan to blow it up after a year remains to be seen; many would have fired Meyer for his bye week stunt alone.
GM Nick Caserio opted not to give rookie coach David Culley a vote of confidence this week for 2022. This was always an odd hire following one of the oddest coaching searches in recent history. Culley's continued discipline issues – suspending a new player every week, it seems – is unusual, and some in the locker room would say way over the top. The product is unwatchable – as was always going to be the case by design in this rebuild; that's hardly all on Culley – and the team probably peaked in a Week 1 win over lowly Jacksonville. The real question is – how set is Caserio on punting entirely on 2022 as well? The team is nowhere close to competing, wants to horde top picks, and some in the industry believe Culley could survive to navigate them through another lost season while they stack assets – and sort out of the messy Deshaun Watson situation – to make the job more attractive to the top candidates in 2023.
New York Giants
The word is out that Joe Judge is safe. It's being whispered to all who inquire … but there is still a lot of (ugly) football to be played. And this thing is totally sideways. First-round QB is hurt. First-round RB looks like a bust. Offense actually getting worse, somehow, after firing OC Jason Garrett (ownership's guy) in place of Freddie Kitchens (second-year coach's guy). In-game management has become a source of scorn for fans, and few individual players are developing at a fast rate. GM Dave Gettleman is very likely to retire/move on. At the very least more staff changes would be in the offing – because this young coach has been firing them since his first few months on the job – and if they can't compete with other NFC East teams in a divisional-heavy schedule down the stretch, you won't convince me that ownership doesn't think long and hard about a change. They haven't won two in a row since Dec. 2 of 2020.
Throw in the possibility for something breaking down over money or power, or over an extension, or a coach stepping aside for age or health reasons, and a team or two that might totally fall apart down the stretch, and the field could expand. Regardless, I have a harder time seeing there only being three or four changes than I would have thought a month ago.