Who's on the Hot Seat in the 2016 NFL Offseason?
Super Bowl 50 is over, and the 2015 NFL season is squarely in the rearview mirror. Though the 2016 league year doesn't officially begin until March 9, there's no denying we've reached the beginning of the offseason.
For many players and coaches, the offseason is a time for reflection, a chance to build on past experiences and an opportunity for a fresh start. For others, however, the arrival of the offseason means taking a place on the dreaded hot seat.
Some starters and coaches didn't meet expectations in 2015. For these guys, 2016 may provide a final opportunity with their franchises, and that's who we're going to focus on.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck may have had a down year in 2015, but he isn't going anywhere. The same can't be said of Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. John Harbaugh may have had a bad season, but the Baltimore Ravens aren't likely to consider replacing him. Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills? Well, that might be a different story altogether.
Here is your list of starters and head coaches who are on the hot seat this offseason.
Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell chose his current team as an undrafted free agent in 2014 because he felt he would have an opportunity to be a regular contributor.
Crowell did indeed contribute as a rookie, rushing for 607 yards and eight touchdowns while sharing duties with fellow rookie Terrance West. The duo helped force veteran Ben Tate out of the lineup and appeared to be a tandem that could shine for the foreseeable future.
West, however, was traded to the Tennessee Titans before the 2015 season and was cut. He ended up with the old Browns, the Baltimore Ravens. This opened the door for Crowell to become Cleveland's lead back. But the former Alabama State standout left quite a bit to be desired.
Crowell started nine games and appeared in all 16 in 2015. He rushed for only 706 yards and four scores, though. He also recorded a subpar 3.8 yards per carry. Pro Football Focus rated him 39th overall among running backs.
Crowell finds himself on the hot seat for a couple of reasons, with his failure to become an upper-echelon back chief among them. Duke Johnson, who had 61 receptions for 534 yards in 2015, has secured the duties in passing situations, so the Browns don't need an every-down starter. What the team does need is a guy who can excel rushing the ball. It would be easy for the Browns to decide Crowell isn't that guy.
Hue Jackson has taken over as head coach in Cleveland, and he has no ties to Crowell. It wouldn't be surprising to see him go after a free-agent like Doug Martin, Chris Ivory or Alfred Morris to lead his rushing attack. The approaching draft is another possibility. Either course of action could leave Crowell as a backup or looking for work with another team.
Mike McCoy, San Diego Chargers
Mike McCoy's place on the hot seat should be obvious. He is entering his fourth season as head coach of the San Diego Chargers, and he has yet to make a significantly positive impact on the team.
The Chargers brought the bright offensive mind over from the rival Denver Broncos to help coax the most out of quarterback Philip Rivers' remaining prime years. While Rivers has excelled as an individual, the Chargers have not improved.
In fact, San Diego has begun to slide under McCoy's direction. The team finished 9-7 and even won a playoff game in McCoy's debut season but missed the playoffs with a 9-7 record in 2014. In 2015, a suspect defense and some questionable play-calling caused the Chargers to stumble to 4-12.
The offense, which is supposed to be the unit that shines under McCoy, produced yardage but was wildly inefficient. Pro Football Focus actually rated San Diego dead last in offense for the season. McCoy, however, remained on the sideline.
"I have the utmost confidence in our leadership," Chargers president John Spanos said after the season, per NFL.com's Conor Orr. "Tom Telesco, Mike McCoy and I have already begun evaluating every aspect of the team to take the essential steps to put a winning product back on the field."
One of the steps the team took was to fire offensive coordinator Frank Reich and five other assistant coaches. If McCoy cannot turn things around in 2016, it's fair to assume he'll be next on the chopping block.
Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been good in his four-year NFL career, but he has yet to join the ranks of the elite. He had his best year in 2015 but still finished with a passer rating of just 88.7.
More concerning is the fact Tannehill has gone just 29-35 as a starter and has failed to get Miami into the postseason. You can't put all of the blame on Tannehill for failing to win, but the Dolphins just finished with the same 6-10 record the team had the year before it drafted him.
Part of the problem might be that Tannehill is still learning the nuances of the position after he made the transition from wide receiver at Texas A&M. Miami receiver Greg Jennings also thinks past coaching staffs have held Tannehill back.
"He just hasn't been given the reins to where he has the liberty and the freedom to call his shots sometimes," Jennings said on CBS. "It's almost like taking a baby, and he's six years old. The baby is no longer a baby, and he still has a bottle in his mouth. You gotta take it out and see if he can drink out of a cup."
New Dolphins head coach Adam Gase might be willing to let Tannehill fly in his offense, but this means Tannehill will also have a chance to fall.
According to Spotrac, Tannehill's base salary is scheduled to jump from $9.34 million in 2016 to nearly $18 million in 2017. If Gase doesn't love what he sees in his quarterback this season, he could look in another, price-friendly direction before the 2017 league year begins.
Jeff Fisher, Los Angeles Rams
Somehow, Jeff Fisher has lasted as a head coach in the NFL for 21 years, so there's a chance the Los Angeles Rams will be willing to keep him around. However, this should be his last offseason with the team, barring notable improvement in the coming year.
Why? Because the Rams have been spinning their wheels since Fisher took over in 2012. They finished 7-8-1 in Fisher's first season and then went 7-9 the following year. In 2014, they were 6-10, and they were back to 7-9 this past season.
Before anyone argues Fisher has struggled because the NFC West is a brutal division, let's keep in mind the Rams tied the Arizona Cardinals with a 4-2 divisional record in 2015. Being competitive in the division hasn't been the problem.
The Rams' lack of improvement is alarming because they have a lot of talent. They had the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year (Aaron Donald) in 2014 and the Offensive Rookie of the Year (Todd Gurley) in 2015.
It's possible, even likely, the Rams didn't consider replacing Fisher this offseason because the team is moving from St. Louis to Los Angeles. There are going to be enough changes as it is.
The Rams, however, are going to have to decide at some point that being average isn't good enough. If Fisher again fails to push Los Angeles past the .500 mark, then the Rams will find someone who can.
Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams should find himself on the hot seat this offseason because he hasn't come close to living up to his status as a second-round draft pick. The Fresno State product has the size (6'1", 215 lbs) and the skills teams look for in a receiver, but he has yet to emerge as a reliable target.
The third-year pro has already started 23 games in Green Bay's pass-driven offense, but he has just 929 receiving yards to show for it. A season-ending injury to star receiver Jordy Nelson in August left the Packers starved for wideout talent in 2015, but Adams only improved his season stat line by 37 yards over his rookie year.
According to Pro Football Focus, Adams had the third-most snaps among Green Bay receivers in 2015, but he finished with the second-lowest yards-per-reception average (9.7).
Even worse than the lack of production is Adams' penchant for dropped passes. Pro Football Focus credited him with 10 drops for the 2015 season on just 88 targets. This is the same number of drops teammate Randall Cobb had on 123 targets.
Nelson is expected to be back to 100 percent by the time the 2016 season opens, so Adams will be pushed down the depth chart no matter what. But emerging players such as Ty Montgomery and Jared Abbrederis could push him even further down in training camp.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is in the prime of his career, and Green Bay needs to take advantage of that by providing him with a talented receiving corps. If Adams cannot get the job done, the team should give his spot to someone who can.
Dre Kirkpatrick, Cincinnati Bengals
It took more than three seasons for him to do it, but Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick finally got into the regular starting lineup in 2015. The end result, though, was average.
The 17th overall pick in 2012 should be excelling in Cincinnati's stout defensive backfield, but he was actually one of the weaker links this past season. Pro Football Focus rated him 216th out of 218 cornerbacks. The only guys rated worse than Kirkpatrick were Antwon Blake of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Brandon Browner of the New Orleans Saints.
Steelers and Saints fans will tell you this isn't the best of company.
According to Pro Football Focus, Kirkpatrick surrendered 742 yards while defending only eight passes and logging zero picks. Only 14 corners gave up more yardage, and only two of them failed to snag an interception. Kirkpatrick has six interceptions in four seasons as a pro.
The problem is that he is entering the final year of his rookie deal. The Bengals have 15 players scheduled to hit the free-agent market next month, including standouts such as Leon Hall, Vincent Rey, Mohamed Sanu and Reggie Nelson. If the team spends to keep its stars this offseason, retaining Kirkpatrick past 2016 might not be an option.
If Kirkpatrick wants to stay in Cincinnati, he is going to have to prove this offseason he is worthy of his starting spot. He'll then have to prove in the regular season he is worthy of keeping it.
Rex Ryan, Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan finds himself on an awfully warm seat this offseason because his defense—you know, the man's specialty—was a major issue in 2015. Pro Football Focus rated the Buffalo defense just 25th in the league.
This is a problem because the Bills had playoff-caliber talent on defense before Ryan arrived and then added playmakers to the offense in the offseason. Running back LeSean McCoy, tight end Charles Clay and quarterback Tyrod Taylor all shined this past season.
The bottom line, though, is that Ryan inherited a 9-7 team and produced an 8-8 season.
Matthew Fairburn of Syracuse.com made his case in November as to why Ryan can't be the answer in Buffalo:
The same old Rex Ryan stood on the sideline at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday while his team lost a critical game to the Kansas City Chiefs and slipped further in the AFC standings.
There was Ryan, standing on the sideline while the Buffalo Bills team he promised would have an elite defense got gashed by Alex Smith and Spencer Ware. There he was, botching decisions on challenges and mishandling the clock. There the same old Rex was, watching his team attempt to make a late comeback with a quarterback incapable of leading such a comeback.
It doesn't seem as if Ryan has grown as a coach since his early days with the New York Jets, and his outspoken personality certainly hasn't changed. Like many a modern sitcom, Ryan's brazen attitude was funny and charming in the beginning, but it has grown stale in recent years—especially when his teams have struggled.
If Buffalo struggles again this season, a change will have to occur somewhere. This should be a playoff team, and the pressure will be on Ryan to lay the foundation this offseason for it to be one. If he fails, it could cost him his job.
Eddie Lacy, Green Bay Packers
Eddie Lacy's first two seasons in the NFL were terrific. He rushed for 1,178 yards as a rookie in 2013 and produced another 1,139 yards in 2014. Lacy slowed down in a big way this past season, however, rushing for just 758 yards and missing a game due to injury.
The Packers seem to feel Lacy's biggest problem is his expanding weight. This issue has the running back on the hot seat.
"He's got a lot of work to do," Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said, per NFL.com's Dan Hanzus. "His offseason last year was not good enough, and he never recovered from it. He cannot play at the weight he played at this year."
Lacy is officially listed at 234 pounds, but it seems highly unlikely his actual weight is even close to that figure. Rob Reischel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel speculated Lacy was at least 25 pounds heavier than his listed weight during the season. This would put the running back in the 260-pound range.
For Lacy, things seem cut and dried. He can either get into better playing shape during the offseason, or he can risk losing his starting job to a running back who can. He has just one year remaining on his rookie deal, so the threat of losing his job is real.