Early NFL Coaching Carousel Predictions
Hire, fire and repeat. It's the NFL's circle of life.
Two head coaching spots are already available in Cleveland and Green Bay. Upward of a dozen more should be under review.
Jason Garrett's, John Harbaugh's and Vance Joseph's hot seats are now simmering after strong performances the last few weeks, while Ron Rivera's and Jay Gruden's backsides may be heating up to a degree. Even so, each of those spots appears safe for now. First-year head coaches should all get another season, too.
That leaves six teams in obvious need of a coaching change: the Browns, Packers, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Which candidate will each prefer? The formula is simple enough.
"He's still a young offensive coach who is extremely smart and creative, and that's something everyone wants now," a lead executive told Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson regarding New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
With that in mind, the following predictions for this offseason's coaching carousel will favor young offensive minds rather than retread head coach or long-in-the-tooth football lifers.
Cincinnati Bengals: Eric Bieniemy
Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown doesn't rely on an expansive football operation like most organizations. Instead, he places loyalty and familiarity above most other traits.
As a result, Marvin Lewis has been the team's head coach for an impressive 16 seasons.
Cincinnati made the postseason in seven of Lewis' first 13 seasons, and it won four AFC North titles. However, the last three years haven't gone nearly as well.
The Bengals missed the playoffs in 2016 and 2017, and they're well on their way to doing so again. The organization hasn't provided Lewis any assurances he'll remain with the team throughout the rest of the regular season—let alone the offseason—after he signed a two-year extension earlier this year.
"No. I wouldn't expect any or ask for any," he said, per ESPN.com's Katherine Terrell. "Least of my worries."
Every coach reaches a point where his voice no longer resonates. Lewis has reached his.
Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is the ideal candidate to replace him.
The Bengals should target a head coach with the aptitude to maximize Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Joe Mixon. According to ESPN.com's Adam Teicher, Bieniemy helps assemble the playbook and weekly game plans and runs offensive meetings. Kansas City's explosive offense ranks third in yards per game and first in points this season, and Bieniemy is a significant reason why.
He also played for the Bengals from 1995 to 1998, which may further appeal to Brown.
Cleveland Browns: Lincoln Riley
The hottest candidate for all of the current and eventual openings will be a college coach with no NFL experience, and the Cleveland Browns may be the most attractive option.
Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley doesn't feel beholden to the professional ranks, though.
"No," Riley said on the Dan Patrick Show when asked if he's obligated to listen to NFL offers. "If I didn't have a job that I thought was a long-term deal, that we could win and be very successful at, that is absolutely a destination coaching job, one of the best coaching jobs in the world regardless of sport, I would maybe have a different answer."
However, coaches rarely enter the highest level with their preferred quarterback. Riley could have that in Cleveland with Baker Mayfield.
The coach's fondness for his former player is well-known. The 35-year-old coach could inherit his quarterback of choice, a young core (including Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Larry Ogunjobi, Joe Schobert, Jarvis Landry, David Njoku and Nick Chubb), over $80 million in available salary-cap space and a league-high 11 selections in the 2019 NFL draft.
Why would an NFL team want a college coach with no professional experience? For one, Oklahoma is now a regular stop for NFL coaches who want to learn about Riley's offensive approach, according to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer.
An innovative offensive mind to work with one of the game's burgeoning stars seems like the perfect match.
If Riley isn't ready to leave the collegiate ranks, the Browns can turn their attention toward other candidates like Dan Campbell, Zac Taylor and Mike McCarthy.
Green Bay Packers: Josh McDaniels
Former Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy spent 11 successful seasons leading the organization, but his failing grasp of a modern offensive approach caused the on-field product to deteriorate over the last two campaigns.
"McCarthy wants credit for Aaron Rodgers, who he is," a source told Kahler. "I think too many people have tried to say they created Aaron Rodgers."
Rodgers had a legitimate beef based on Green Bay's offensive approach this season. According to NFL.com's Graham Barfield, the Packers led the NFL in pass rate on first down, attempts outside the numbers and throwaways. They were among the league's bottom third in play-action and pre-snap-motion rates.
The next step is hiring someone who can create a synergy with Rodgers while updating the offense. New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is the obvious candidate.
According to Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson, a few NFL assistant coaches have already indicated interest in joining McDaniels in Green Bay if the Packers hire him
McDaniels has worked with Tom Brady for 12 seasons, and he's orchestrating the NFL's seventh-ranked scoring offense this season. A potential marriage between McDaniels and the Packers may come down to his decision to leave the Indianapolis Colts at the altar last offseason and whether he's ready to leave the Pats.
"When the next [hiring cycle] comes, nobody will really care what he did to the Colts if they think they need him," a league executive told Robinson. "Especially if there aren't a lot of good guys to choose from."
Jacksonville Jaguars: John DeFilippo
The Jacksonville Jaguars are easily the league's most disappointing team in 2018. The Jags went from the AFC Championship Game last season to a 4-8 record this year, including a seven-game losing streak.
Head coach Doug Marrone has already fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and benched quarterback Blake Bortles. However, it's difficult to imagine him saving his job regardless of what happens over these final four weeks.
"Our numbers are down all over the place," executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin said last week, per Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith. "Our sacks are down, our pressures are down, our turnovers are huge, our penalties—the way we behave on the field is ridiculous, our penalties."
Coughlin also called out Marrone without doing so by name.
"At the end of every season you have to go through every point about your team, and this will be no different," Coughlin said.
Another familiar face may be better suited to deal with the Jaguars' inadequacies, especially on offense.
Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo began his NFL career as an offensive quality coach for the New York Giants under Coughlin's supervision. The two could reunite in Jacksonville.
DeFilippo may have his choice of jobs as one of the top overall coaching candidates. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is on pace to set career highs in completion percentage and touchdown passes.
There may be more enticing jobs than the Jaguars, who lack an established quarterback. But DeFilippo should see the value in the roster's overall talent, the organization's willingness to spend and the opportunity to add a signal-caller through free agency or the draft.
With a few smart moves this offseason, the Jaguars will be back in the playoff picture.
New York Jets: Zac Taylor
Every team with an opening will look at Sean McVay's coaching tree and consider the possibilities. Two options will draw the most interest: pass-game coordinator Shane Waldron and quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor.
According to CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora, Taylor "is expected to merit interviews from several teams." McVay will want to keep his staff intact, but he isn't likely to get in Taylor's way if an opportunity arises.
This year's third overall pick, Sam Darnold, will be the New York Jets' biggest selling point to Taylor and other coaching candidates. The Jets weren't positioned to nurture the rookie's growth with a defensive-minded head coach and a struggling offensive coordinator.
Taylor also shares an agent with Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan. It's unclear whether the Jets will retain Maccagnan, but those ties bind at the NFL level.
First, the Jets must part with current head coach Todd Bowles.
Three weeks ago, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Bowles already faced an uphill battle to retain his job. The Jets proceeded to lose both of their games since the report surfaced.
"I don't know how many [penalties] we had, but it felt like we had one every play," he said after Sunday's 26-22 loss to the Tennessee Titans, per ESPN.com's Rich Cimini. "It cost us, and it's disgusting."
A lack of discipline directly reflects on the coaching staff. It's time for the Jets to find the next big thing after three straight losing seasons.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Brian Flores
NFL teams tend to overcorrect. After hiring Dirk Koetter to be their head coach and proceeding to field one of the NFL's worst defenses over the last two years, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may hire a defensive-minded coach this time around.
After their Week 6 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Koetter fired defensive coordinator Mike Smith. "This is a production business," he said at the time, per Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper.
Yes, it is. Koetter is a 19-25 head coach with little to no hope of achieving a winning record this season.
New England Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores, meanwhile, serves as the team's de facto defensive coordinator since he calls plays.
"Get to know Brian Flores," an NFC executive told Yahoo Sports' Charles Robinson in January. "He might actually be the Patriots' best assistant coach, including both of the coordinators [Josh McDaniels and current Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia]."
Flores defensive background is only part of the equation. His ability to reach players serves as his best selling point.
"He's a connector," the executive said. "He connects and motivates players at a really high level. He's really sharp when you talk to him. Disciplined."
Nothing could be more important to a Buccaneers organization in the midst of a major decision regarding Jameis Winston. If Tampa Bay decides to move forward with Winston as its franchise quarterback, it must hire a coach who can reach the 2015 No. 1 overall pick as both a person and player.
The fact general manager Jason Licht comes from the Patriots personnel tree doesn't hurt, either.