The 2013 NFL season is going in the wrong direction for some players and coaches as it hits its homestretch.
Week 10 was not kind to any of the following eight men, and as a result, more questions are being raised about the NFL futures of each one of them—whether that be for the remainder of this season, in 2014 or beyond.
In this week’s Hot Seat Watch, we take a look at one player whose status will remain in flux going into a contract year as a result of a season-ending injury, plus seven players or coaches who need to turn their seasons around down the stretch to improve their job security heading into the 2014 offseason.
Jake Locker was not on the hot seat for this season—and he probably will not be going into the 2014 season either—but after suffering a season-ending Lisfranc foot injury Monday, there is reason to bring his future as the Tennessee Titans quarterback into question.
Locker’s play had made significant strides in his third season, as he completed 111 of 183 passing attempts for 1,256 yards and eight touchdowns with only four interceptions. That said, he only played in seven games this year due to multiple injuries.
In 2012, Locker only played in 11 games due to a shoulder injury. Locker’s play has progressed when he has been on the field, but he will go into a contract year in 2014 without having played a full season yet in his three-year career.
While he has shown enough promise in three seasons for the Titans to go back to him at the start of the 2014 season, they almost certainly won’t discuss a long-term contract extension prior to the season, leaving him to prove he can stay healthy and continue to improve while also leaving the door open to make a change if Locker cannot do so.
With a solid veteran backup in Ryan Fitzpatrick (who is assuming the starting job for the rest of the 2013 season in Locker’s absence), it is unlikely the Titans would invest an early draft pick on a quarterback in the 2014 draft. Nonetheless, Locker is almost certainly going to go into the 2014 season with the pressure of playing for his job beyond next season.
Make no mistake about it, Andy Dalton’s job as the Cincinnati Bengals’ starting quarterback should be safe for the remainder of the 2013 season as long as he stays healthy, but if he continues to struggle as he has the past two weeks, his job may not be so safe this offseason.
The Bengals have lost their past two games, and Dalton’s poor play has been a primary reason for those losses. He threw three interceptions in each of those game, and completed just 56 out of a combined 106 passing attempts between the two games.
That said, it would be unfair to ignore Dalton’s much better play throughout the month of October, in which he was actually named AFC Offensive Player of the Month. But if he wants to keep his job security beyond this season, he needs to play the way he did in October for the rest of the season.
Dalton’s long-term future was in question before October, and it is in question again. The Bengals have one of the AFC’s most talented rosters, so they are expected to win games and not only make the playoffs, but to also advance beyond the Wild Card Round, something Dalton and the Bengals have failed to do in each of the past two seasons.
If Dalton’s struggles continue to cost the Bengals games and he does not do enough for the Bengals to make a further run this year than he has in years past, Cincinnati could look into adding a new quarterback this offseason, potentially even with a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
It has not been a good season for the Buffalo Bills offense, but for most of the season, they have had the excuse of injuries, as their starting quarterback (EJ Manuel), most dynamic offensive playmaker (running back C.J. Spiller) and No. 1 wide receiver (Stevie Johnson) have all missed time.
All three were on the field for the Bills versus the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday; however, when Buffalo put together its weakest offensive performance of the season, managing just 10 points and 227 yards (of which seven points and 80 yards came on the team’s final, garbage-time drive with the team trailing by 20 with less than five minutes to play).
This continued an alarming trend for the Buffalo offense, which has scored less points than the previous game for five consecutive weeks. Additionally, the Bills have not scored more than 24 points in any of their 10 games this season, even with a defense that has come up with 16 takeaways this season.
While the personnel on the field have not executed up to expectations, first-year offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has also been a huge disappointment.
Although Hackett was expected to bring creative play-calling to the Bills offense, Buffalo’s play-calling has been largely predictable. The Bills have been unable to consistently sustain drives or finish drives—they rank 30th in the NFL with a red-zone touchdown percentage of only 42.9 and 29th in points per play, according to TeamRankings.com.
The Bills’ conservative offense has not often found creative ways to get Spiller the ball in space, and the offense has lacked big plays for much of the season as a result.
If the Bills offense cannot turn it around in its final six games of the season, Hackett could be one-and-done in Buffalo.
The temperature is almost certainly rising on Monte Kiffin’s seat after the Dallas Cowboys, especially their defense, were embarrassed, 49-17, by the New Orleans Saints in front of a national television audience on Sunday Night Football.
The Cowboys defense was at its worst Sunday, allowing 625 yards and an NFL-record 40 first downs to the Saints offense, but it was not exactly anything new for the Dallas defense this season. The Cowboys rank dead last in the NFL with 439.8 yards allowed per game, having allowed 500 or more yards to opposing offenses four times in 10 games, and are 23rd in the NFL with 25.8 points allowed per game.
Expectations were high for Kiffin, who was very successful as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive coordinator from 1996-2008, when he was hired to bring his Tampa 2 defense to Dallas this season. Those expectations have come far from being met, however, which could leave Kiffin, whose contract is for only one year, without an extension in 2014.
Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones is already rethinking his decision to fire former defensive coordinator Rob Ryan after last season, according to Jean-Jacques Taylor of ESPNDallas.com.
"We thought that it was best for us to go in that direction, and that doesn't look good right now," Jones said, according to ESPN Dallas.
Taylor wrote he believes Jones and the Cowboys should “move in another direction defensively … again.”
It is seeming more likely with each passing week that the Indianapolis Colts may have to give up on Trent Richardson even more quickly than the Cleveland Browns did, even though the Colts traded a first-round pick to the Browns earlier this season to acquire the former No. 3 overall pick in just his second NFL season.
Richardson has yet to rush for more than 60 yards in any of his seven games with the Colts, but his performance in Sunday’s 38-8 loss to the St. Louis Rams may have been his worst of the season yet. Richardson gained just two yards in five rushing attempts.
After receiving 52 total touches in his first three games in Indianapolis, he has just 43 total touches in his past four games. His workload has decreased, and that is not for no reason, as he has averaged just 2.8 yards per carry in his time with the Colts thus far.
Even on a team that lost its top two running backs, Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw, to season-ending injuries, Richardson may not be their best bet to be their No. 1 running back for the rest of the season. That would be Donald Brown, who himself has been a disappointment since he was a 2009 first-round pick, but has been more productive than Richardson in each of the Colts’ past three games.
Richardson should remain a factor in the Colts’ backfield as long as he is healthy for a remainder of this season, considering the team’s lack of other options at the running back position, but if his play does not improve, the Colts will be left with little choice but to find better backs to pair with Ballard (Bradshaw and Brown are both unrestricted free agents) than Richardson in 2014.
Like the Colts with Richardson, the San Diego Chargers are likely already regretting their investment in cornerback Derek Cox, whom they signed to a four-year, $20 million contract this offseason. Cox has not played up to his perceived value this season, and as a result, he has been benched in each of his past two games.
Cox’s benching Sunday came after he struggled to disengage from a block by Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker. After he finally did, he whiffed on a tackle up the right sideline against tight end Julius Thomas, who was able to stroll to the end zone for a 74-yard touchdown.
All in all, Cox has had a very disappointing season. While he has one interception and six pass deflections in the Chargers’ first eight games, he has allowed 1.70 yards per coverage snap, tied for the fourth-highest average in the league this season among cornerbacks with at least 50 percent of their team's snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
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.
If Cox cannot turn his play around quickly, there is reason to believe he will lose not only his starting job by the end of the season, but his job altogether in the 2014 offseason. According to Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Cox’s contract is only guaranteed beyond this season in case of injury, and the Chargers could save $4.25 million by releasing him prior to the third day of the 2014 league year.
In his first playing season after spending his entire rookie year on injured reserve, 2012 fifth-round draft pick Randy Bullock has been a huge disappointment this season. He has the NFL’s worst field-goal percentage (60.9), and has been especially bad in his past two games, making just two of six field goal attempts against the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals.
He has been unreliable all season, and has been completely unsuccessful on long-range kicks, with a season-long of 48 yards and four misses from 50 yards or more.
Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, serving as interim head coach, said last week that Houston was going to stick with Bullock as their kicker, but that may cease to be the case if Bullock’s struggles continue. According to Drew Dougherty of HoustonTexans.com, Phillips said, "He certainly knows and we told him, and everybody else knows. He’s got to get it done."
If Bullock cannot turn things around quickly to show that he can make both longer kicks and shorter kicks consistently, his time in Houston will not last much longer. Some analysts, including Stephanie Stradley of the Houston Chronicle, think it should have already ended.
“When the Texans make various decisions, I try to play amateur GM and figure out why,” Stradley wrote. “Often with decision making, teams have to make the better of not great choices. Sometimes I disagree with a choice, but I can see why that choice may be a rational one.
“When I am asked why Randy Bullock is still with the Texans, I cannot construct any great reason,” Stradley added.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano may be the most obvious candidate to be fired in the upcoming NFL offseason, but after the Miami Dolphins were defeated for the Buccaneers’ first win of the season on Monday night, coach Joe Philbin may also be rising as a candidate to be fired.
Even after losing to the previously winless Buccaneers, the Dolphins are still in the AFC playoff hunt, tied with four other teams at 4-5 who are just one game back from the New York Jets in a still-wide-open race for the second AFC wild card spot. Philbin’s problems in Miami, however, may have more to do with off-field problems than on it.
The Dolphins are currently embroiled in a locker room scandal headlined by left tackle Jonathan Martin, who is not expected to return to Miami, and left guard Richie Incognito, who is suspended by the team while being investigated for his alleged mistreatment of Martin.
As evidence continues to lend itself to the conclusion that Miami has had a broader locker room problem beyond just those two players, Philbin’s job could be on the line if it is determined that he did not do enough to control the off-field situation.
Yet for Philbin, the most important factor to keeping his job is likely to be whether he can keep his team on a winning track. If the Dolphins can make it to the postseason, Philbin will be in much better position than if his team’s season falls apart under the spotlight of scandal.
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.
In a league where winning sometimes overshadows problems and losing seems to amplify them, the Dolphins’ on-field results are likely to be the ultimate deciding factor in Philbin’s job future.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.