Who's on the Hot Seat After 2014 NFL Draft?
Although the 2014 NFL draft has come and gone and hope currently springs eternal throughout every franchise and fanbase, the harsh reality of the situation is that a number of coaches, general managers and players face uncertain futures with their clubs and are squarely on the hot seat.
The men on this list are under intense pressure, and their directive is clear: perform and win or you'll be out of a job.
The coaches who comprise this list are on it because they haven't qualified for the postseason—and in one instance, the coach has experienced significant off-field turmoil. The general managers have either had a number of unsuccessful campaigns in a row or have gambled with the club's future. Finally, the players either have younger and potentially better options behind them or have possessed an inability to stay on the field.
The pressure is on, and these men must deliver in order to keep their jobs for 2015 and beyond.
Here are the coaches, general managers and players on the hot seat after the 2014 NFL draft.
Miami Dolphins HC Joe Philbin
The 2014 season will almost certainly be a make-or-break year for Miami Dolphins coach Joe Philbin.
In 2013, the Dolphins were rocked by a bullying scandal that sent shock waves throughout the NFL. It ultimately left the team without three of its starting offensive linemen from 2013 (Richie Incognito, Jonathan Martin and John Jerry) and had many, including B/R's Mike Freeman, questioning the viability of Philbin's leadership skills.
There's also the fact that the team's on-field product sputtered down the stretch, as the Dolphins crashed and burned against inferior competition (the Bills and Jets, respectively) in the final two games to finish 8-8 and out of the postseason, putting the rotten cherry on top of the disgusting sundae. Philbin is now 15-17 in two years as the Dolphins head coach.
New general manager Dennis Hickey addressed the offensive line in free agency and the draft, signing tackle Branden Albert and guard Shelley Smith and then drafting Tennessee tackle Ja'Wuan James and North Dakota State tackle Billy Turner. Last year, the Dolphins couldn't protect quarterback Ryan Tannehill, allowing a league-high 58 (58!) sacks. If they have similar issues this year, Philbin's seat might just burst into flames.
After two seasons on the job that feature no postseason play and a major black eye on what was one of the NFL's proudest franchises, the directive for Philbin is clear: make the playoffs or lose your job.
Dallas Cowboys HC Jason Garrett
Stop me if you've heard this one before: Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is on the hot seat.
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Following three consecutive 8-8 seasons without trips to the postseason, it's a miracle that Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones hasn't already fired Garrett. It stands to reason that 2014 will be Garrett's final chance to pilot the club into the postseason.
After this past weekend's draft, Jones told Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News: "I, factually, can look down here and say we’re a better team than we were this time last year as reality would have it." Since the Cowboys missed the playoffs by virtue of a Week 17 loss in 2013, Jones is clearly intimating that he fancies the 2014 iteration to be a playoff-caliber club.
So once again, all eyes will be on Garrett in Big D. While he's shown an almost supernatural ability to avoid losing his job, rivaling the survival skills of Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger, he won't make it to 2015 without a playoff appearance on his resume.
Pittsburgh Steelers GM Kevin Colbert
In his time as Pittsburgh Steelers general manager, Kevin Colbert has piloted the club to three Super Bowl appearances and two world championships.
But following two consecutive 8-8 seasons without trips to the postseason, it stands to reason that 2014 is a critical year for Colbert's potential future in the Steel City.
This past weekend represented an extremely important draft for Colbert, as he desperately needed to inject young playmakers onto both sides of the ball. On the surface, it would seem that he did so with the selections of Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier (first round), Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt (second round), Kent State running back/receiver Dri Archer (third round) and Clemson receiver Martavis Bryant (fourth round). However, it's too early to know just how the class will perform.
If Pittsburgh's greenhorns and other young players perform up to expectations, the team could find itself back in the postseason. But if the neophytes struggle and the team misses the postseason for the third consecutive year, it's difficult to imagine Colbert keeping his job.
Oakland Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie & HC Dennis Allen
Perhaps no general manager/head coach combination is perched on a more flammable seat than Reggie McKenzie and Dennis Allen of the Oakland Raiders.
Despite steering the club out of salary cap hell and toward the path to respectability, the duo has produced back-to-back 4-12 seasons that have tested the patience of owner Mark Davis.
Earlier this offseason, Davis said this in an interview with Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle:
(The 2014 season is) not put-up-or-shut-up, but there are no excuses. All right? When I said there was a deconstruction and a reconstruction period, that was to give an idea of what's actually been happening, but it's no excuse. In my mind.
It's clear that the Raiders need to win in 2014 in order to keep McKenzie and Allen employed.
McKenzie has consummated a number of shrewd signings this offseason, including defensive end Justin Tuck, linebacker LaMarr Woodley, receiver James Jones and running back Maurice Jones-Drew. He also traded for former Texans quarterback Matt Schaub and is coming off what appears to be a fantastic draft.
The infusion of new talent has the Raiders looking like a competent club, and now it'll be up to Allen, McKenzie's hire at head coach, to fashion a competitive campaign in the ultra-tough AFC West.
The twosome is tied at the hip; if McKenzie's players don't perform and Allen can't coax positive play out of them, both men will be fired.
New York Giants GM Jerry Reese
Don't let the jewelry fool you; despite having won two Super Bowls during his tenure as general manager of the New York Giants, Jerry Reese is most assuredly on the hot seat heading into 2014.
The Giants have failed to qualify for the postseason in each of the last two seasons, and the 2013 iteration that finished 7-9 was a total debacle. The offensive line completely broke down, and the team's overall talent level was not up to snuff.
In his season-ending press conference (h/t Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News), owner John Mara took Reese's recent drafts to task, saying:
To be successful in this league you have to do a good job in the draft, especially on those middle-round picks. There’s no question in the last few years we missed on a few of them, for whatever reason.
The pressure was clearly on Reese to deliver in this year's draft. At this point, it's unclear if his draft class, headlined by the first-round selection of LSU receiver Odell Beckham Jr., will help navigate Big Blue back into the playoffs.
Reese also signed a cavalcade of players in free agency, including cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, running back Rashad Jennings and guard Geoff Schwartz. He clearly knew that the results of the past few seasons haven't been acceptable, and he did everything in his power to improve the 53-man roster for the 2014 season.
If the roster once again falters and the Giants don't make the playoffs, though, Reese will likely be a goner.
Buffalo Bills GM Doug Whaley
In one fell swoop last Thursday night, Buffalo Bills general manager Doug Whaley placed himself squarely on the hot seat.
Whaley mortgaged the short-term future of the Bills and his long-term employment prospects in Western New York with a seismic trade, dealing the ninth overall pick in this year's draft along with a first- and fourth-round selection in 2015 in order to move up five spots to select Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.
Make no mistake about it, Whaley has tethered his future to Watkins and is betting on the electric playmaker to push the Bills into the postseason for the first time in 14 years.
The problem, of course, is that the Bills weren't just one player away from making a deep playoff run heading into the draft. I panned the trade last Thursday night, as the Bills had more a more pressing need along the offensive line. Last year, Buffalo allowed 48 sacks, tied for fourth-most in the NFL, and starting quarterback EJ Manuel missed six games with various maladies. If the team can't protect Manuel and keep him upright, it wouldn't matter if the Bills receiving corps featured Watkins and both Andre Reed and James Lofton in their primes.
In an interview with Sports Illustrated's Peter King, Whaley said this about the decision to move up and select Watkins:
We’ve got to win. We’ve got to win now. Fourteen years of not making the playoffs. Fourteen years. The people here deserve so much more. We need to give them more. We need to give them a winning team. We need to do it for the people of this region, and we need to do it for Mr. Wilson. I understand how big the deal is. I’m a competitor. I like our odds. I like our chances. The information we had made the decision for us. The player made the decision. I think I made the best decision for the Buffalo Bills. I can live with that, however it turns out.
In that quote, Whaley refers to the late, great Ralph Wilson, the longtime Bills owner who passed away earlier this year. Whaley surely knows that with a new ownership group on the horizon, he must win over the fanbase and provide significant hope for the future in order to keep his job.
That's what he hoped to accomplish by trading up for Watkins. It was a calculated gamble, and it is one that will determine whether or not he remains the general manager of the Bills in 2015 and beyond.
Tennessee Titans QB Jake Locker
Since being selected with the eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft, Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker has failed to dazzle and has shown an inability to stay healthy, missing 16 games over the past two seasons.
And with the team possessing a new head coach in Ken Whisenhunt and declining to pick up Locker's fifth-year option for 2015, the likelihood is that, barring a considerable reversal in fortune, 2014 will be Locker's last year in the Music City.
Locker must play—and play well—in order to hold the starting job in Tennessee beyond this season. The Titans drafted LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger in the sixth round of last weekend's draft, and given Locker's history it should surprise no one if Mettenberger is starting by the end of the season.
This is clearly Locker's last shot with the Titans. If he can't stay healthy or perform, he'll be elsewhere in 2015, and it won't be as the presumptive starting quarterback.
Minnesota Vikings QB Matt Cassel
When the Minnesota Vikings re-signed quarterback Matt Cassel at the beginning of the offseason, it appeared that Cassel would serve as the "bridge" passer to whichever signal-caller the team selected in the draft.
But thanks to recent quotes from coach Mike Zimmer, it appears that Cassel's seat is already starting to get warm.
The Vikings traded back into the first round this year in order to select Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater at No. 32 overall, and Zimmer has indicated he won't hesitate to play the neophyte. He told Matt Vensel of the Star-Tribune that Bridgewater "will play when we feel like he’s ready, if he’s the best guy, which we hope that he will be. We always want to have competition.”
There's also the fact that the Vikings have a new offensive coordinator in Norv Turner, so it's not like Cassel has enjoyed a major head start over Bridgewater in learning the new system. If they're starting off on relatively equal footing, the fact that the club spent a first-round selection on Bridgewater signals that the club is more likely to play the greenhorn.
Forget about the idea of Cassel serving as the "bridge" to Bridgewater (no pun intended). There is no bridge; expect Bridgewater to emerge as the Week 1 starter.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Josh McCown
While the inclusion of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown on this list might seem odd, the events from this past weekend prove that he's indeed on the hot seat heading into the 2014 campaign.
When the Buccaneers signed the 34-year-old McCown in free agency, coach Lovie Smith was quick to install him as the starting signal-caller. It appeared that Smith and new general manager Jason Licht had soured on Mike Glennon, who started 13 games for the Bucs as a rookie in 2013 and threw 19 touchdown passes against only nine interceptions.
In fact, I included Glennon on my list of best bargaining chips in the 2014 draft, with the expectations that Licht and Smith would deal him elsewhere.
But the draft has come and gone, and Glennon remains on the roster. Smith actually pulled a total 180 when he called Glennon his "quarterback of the future," per Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio.
McCown has been set up for success, with the club only drafting offensive players this past weekend, including receiver Mike Evans in the first round and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the second. McCown thrived last season in Chicago when tossing the ball to towering targets, and incumbent receiver Vincent Jackson (6'5"), Evans (6'5") and Seferian-Jenkins (6'6") all fit the bill. If McCown can't succeed throwing to those giants, there will be an issue in Tampa.
If McCown struggles to start the season, don't be surprised if Glennon is inserted into the starting lineup. The Buccaneers are clearly a team with playoff aspirations, and if it doesn't look like McCown can steer them into January, it's doubtful he'll remain the starter.