Hot Seat Watch for NFL Players, Coaches After NFL Week 9
As the NFL season has moved past its halfway point and closer to the end of the season, the temperature of the “hot seat” will begin to rise for coaches and players on underperforming teams.
As teams who fall out of contention start looking ahead to how they can be in the best position for the 2014 season and beyond, they will consider who on their team should be replaced in the offseason, or even before the end of the year.
In the following slides, we take a look at some coaches and players around the league whose jobs—whether that be a starting spot or a roster spot/coaching job altogether—could be in jeopardy sooner rather than later. While all of these men could certainly be replaced in 2014, none of them are sure bets to make it through the 2013 season in their current positions.
Greg Schiano, Head Coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
There is no one in the National Football League with a hotter seat than Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano.
Schiano won six of his first 10 games as an NFL head coach with the Buccaneers last season, but since then, Tampa Bay has lost 13 of 14 games, including all eight of its games this year. In a league where immediate results are expected from new coaches, the team’s regression in his second year would be enough on its own to cost Schiano his job.
Compounding the Buccaneers’ inability to win games, however, has been a number of additional controversies in the Tampa Bay locker room.
The biggest blemish on Schiano’s resume may be the NFL Players’ Association’s belief, according to Tom Pelissero of USA Today Sports, that Schiano was responsible for leaking confidential information about former Tampa Bay starting quarterback Josh Freeman, who was released by the Buccaneers in a messy October divorce.
All in all, it appears Schiano’s time should be running out. His team is not winning at all—even though the Buccaneers have some very legitimate talent on both sides of the ball, especially on defense—and some of his current and former players, according to NFL.com’s Mike Silver, do not respect him:
"How bad is it there? It's worse than you can imagine," one NFL player who spent 2012 with the Bucs told Silver. "It's like being in Cuba."
Several current Bucs players describe a similarly bleak environment in which the all-powerful, unyielding Schiano spews tone-deaf platitudes while demonstrating the personal charm of "Homeland" character Nicholas Brody.
Joe Philbin, Head Coach, Miami Dolphins
While Schiano’s fate to be fired by the Buccaneers seems close to certain at this point, Joe Philbin’s future with the Miami Dolphins is much more difficult to predict. It will likely depend on how well his team performs down the stretch in its final eight games of the season.
With a 4-4 record, the Dolphins are just a half-game back of the New York Jets in a wide-open race for the second AFC wild-card playoff spot.
Miami is also, however, in the middle of controversy surrounding concerns about its locker-room culture, highlighted by left guard Richie Incognito’s indefinite suspension from the team for allegedly sending hateful text messages, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, to left tackle Jonathan Martin, who is currently on a leave of absence.
If the findings of Incognito’s text messages expose a broader locker-room problem in Miami, it could cost Philbin his job because of his lack of control over the situation. More tangibly, however, Philbin needs to get results out of his team, even with two starting offensive linemen away from the team and the off-field distractions that accompany the scandal’s publicity.
The Dolphins made a major investment in the 2013 season by making a number of high-profile free-agent signings this offseason, including the additions of wide receiver Mike Wallace and middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Those moves were made in the expectation of yielding immediate results.
If Philbin can lead the Dolphins to the playoffs, he should keep his job unless there is significantly more to the story of off-field issues in the Miami locker room. But if his team falters down the stretch and there continues to be issues between Dolphins players, Philbin may be looking for a new job next season.
Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings
There has been no hotter seat in the NFL at the quarterback position over the past six weeks than in Minnesota. The Vikings have had three different starting quarterbacks this season, though they have circled back to third-year signal-caller Christian Ponder after he started the first three games of the season.
Ponder initially suffered a rib injury against the Cleveland Browns in Week 3 and missed the Vikings’ next game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers as a result, but the Vikings did not give the struggling quarterback his job back immediately upon his return from injury.
Matt Cassel, who led the Vikings to their first (and to this point, only) win of the season against the Steelers, started Minnesota’s next game against the Carolina Panthers after its Week 5 bye. Midseason signing Josh Freeman then went on to start for Minnesota in Week 7 against the New York Giants before Ponder got his job back in Week 8 in a game with rival Green Bay.
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who could also be on the hot seat after the team's 1-7 start, said Ponder will remain the starter for at least Week 10, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
There are reasons, though, why Ponder did not get his job back immediately upon his return from injury. With just 214.4 passing yards per start and three touchdowns compared to six interceptions, his poor play has been a significant factor in the Vikings losing all five games he has started.
Ponder’s 72.6 quarterback rating ranks 28th among qualifying starting quarterbacks this season. The Vikings should certainly be in the market for a new long-term quarterback option in 2014, but if Ponder does not pick up his play, he could lose the starting job back to Cassel or Freeman before even getting through the rest of this season.
Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
Michael Vick outperformed Nick Foles to win the Philadelphia Eagles’ starting quarterback job this preseason, but it appears he may be on the verge of losing the job back to Foles after Foles threw for 406 yards and seven touchdowns Sunday in a start against the Oakland Raiders.
Vick has not been impressive in what may be his final chance to be an NFL starting quarterback. He has been unable to play a full game since Week 4 due to a hamstring injury, and he has struggled when he has played, completing just 54.6 percent of his passes.
Foles, on the other hand, has thrown 13 touchdowns and no interceptions in six games played this season. While the second-year quarterback’s breakout performance against the Raiders came against the league’s 24th-ranked passing defense, he has shown the skills when he has played both this season and last season to make a serious push for Vick’s job the rest of the year.
Chip Kelly remains noncommittal about who his starting quarterback will be once Vick is healthy, according to Anwar Richardson of Yahoo! Sports, but if Foles gets another start in Week 10 and performs well, the temperature on Vick’s hot seat will certainly be on the rise.
Going forward to the 2014 season, both quarterbacks may be on the hot seat. Twenty-four-year-old Foles could certainly play his way into being Philadelphia’s long-term quarterback, but the Eagles could also turn to 23-year-old rookie Matt Barkley or another draft pick as early as next season if neither Foles nor Vick does enough to lock down the starting job the remainder of the season.
Trent Richardson, RB, Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts almost certainly aren’t going to be releasing Trent Richardson in the next couple of seasons after trading their 2014 first-round pick to acquire him from the Cleveland Browns, but his playing time could continue to dwindle if he fails to take his game up a notch and play to his ability.
After failing to play like the No. 3 overall pick he was in one season and two games with the Browns, Cleveland decide to cut its losses early on the running back, and it has looked smart for doing so. Richardson has been a disappointment in his first six games in Indianapolis, averaging less than three yards per carry (248 rushing yards on 83 attempts).
Richardson is the Colts' starting tailback, but that may only be because Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw are both out for the season with injuries. Even on a decimated running back depth chart, Richardson is at risk of losing his starting job to Donald Brown, another major disappointment after he was a first-round pick in 2009.
Brown has averaged 6.3 yards per carry this season, compiling 214 rushing yards for the Colts in the last six games, even though he has only received 32 carries.
If Richardson is going to remain an NFL feature back, he has to start playing like one and show the strength, speed and burst that made him one of the top prospects in the 2012 NFL draft. If not, he is at risk of getting shuffled down the depth chart when Ballard returns next season. (Bradshaw and Brown are slated for unrestricted free agency.)
Derek Cox, CB, San Diego Chargers
Another high-profile investment at risk of losing his starting job is San Diego Chargers cornerback Derek Cox. The Chargers had high hopes for Cox, signing the former Jacksonville Jaguar to a four-year, $20 million contract this offseason, but he has not played up to his perceived value this season.
Cox was benched for the second half of San Diego’s loss to the Washington Redskins on Sunday, after allowing four receptions for 78 yards in the first half of the game, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
All in all, Cox has had a season disappointing enough for him to lose his starting job. While he has one interception and six pass deflections in the Chargers’ first eight games, he has allowed 1.79 yards per coverage snap, the sixth-highest average in the league this season among cornerbacks with at least 50 percent of their teams' snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Chargers have one of the NFL’s worst cornerback depth charts—Shareece Wright, Johnny Patrick and Richard Marshall are all below-average starters at best—so Cox’s benching says a lot about his play.
San Diego should certainly be hoping their offseason investment will get his game back on track down the stretch, especially as they remain in the thick of the race for the second wild-card spot in the AFC playoffs, but the Chargers have certainly sent a message to Cox that his job is not secure.
Ryan Clark, FS, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been making changes to their defensive lineup in an effort to turn the play of that struggling unit around, but it proved to be to no avail, at least on Sunday when the unit was torched for 610 yards of total offense by the New England Patriots.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he is going to “re-evaluate everything” after his team’s 2-6 start, which could put players like veteran free safety Ryan Clark on the hot seat.
Rated 52nd out of 60 safeties who played at least 50 percent of their teams’ snaps this season by Pro Football Focus, Clark has been shaky both in pass coverage and as a run defender. If he does not improve his game quickly, the 2014 unrestricted free agent may not make it through the season without losing his starting job to rookie Shamarko Thomas, who has shown promise in limited playing time in situational packages.
The Steelers need someone on defense to take a role as a playmaker, which Clark has not been this year. At 34 years old, he is likely in his final season with the team's aging defense, but he needs to play better just to retain his spot on the field.
Nathaniel Hackett, Offensive Coordinator, Buffalo Bills
It would be unfair to blame the Buffalo Bills’ offensive struggles solely on Nathaniel Hackett, considering he has had to operate an offense with three different quarterbacks—EJ Manuel, Thad Lewis and Jeff Tuel—this season.
Nonetheless, a continued trend of questionable play-calling could put him on the hot seat if the Bills offense continues to underperform in the second half of the season, especially with Manuel expected back in the lineup.
The Bills have struggled to sustain offensive drives this season, in part due to a mostly vanilla playbook that has failed to consistently get Buffalo’s most dynamic offensive players—running back C.J. Spiller and wide receiver Stevie Johnson—the ball out in space for playmaking opportunities. Buffalo’s offense also ranks 25th in the NFL in third-down conversion rate (35.5 percent) and, according to TeamRankings.com, has the league’s second-worst red zone touchdown rate (42.3 percent).
It may be too quick to put Hackett on the hot seat in his first year as offensive coordinator, but the Bills, who also rank 26th in the league with 4.8 yards per offensive play, need to start making more big plays and producing offensive drives more consistently. If they do not make sufficient progress on the offensive side of the ball in the second half of the season, the Bills may need to consider a coaching change in an effort to spark this unit in 2014.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.