Gauging How Hot Every NFL Coach's Seat Is Heading into the 2021 Draft
Job security for head coaches doesn't often come up around the NFL draft, as the yearly cycle of hirings and firings has passed and vacancies are almost always filled well ahead of the start of free agency and the new league year.
Still, the draft is one of the most important events for determining how long a coach is going to stay with his organization and a good measuring stick for where each team stands at this point in the offseason.
Hitting a series of home runs in the draft and getting a lot of mileage out of a rookie class make it much easier for a team to continue rolling with the incumbent, while having a handful of rookies who fail to live up to expectations could make it much easier for a club on the fence to part ways with its coach.
How a team drafts can also be a good indicator of how it feels about the coach. Franchises might be more willing to roll the dice with raw, high-upside prospects who could take time to pan out if they feel their current guy will be around to develop them.
With that in mind, here is a temperature check for all 32 coaches. The scale starts with "cold" for the most secure coaches, moves up to "cool" for coaches who should be safe but could show some improvement, "warm" for those who need to start turning things around and "hot" for a coach likely to be fired without significant improvement in the near future.
Buffalo Bills: Sean McDermott
The Bills are coming off their best season in nearly three decades. Not only did the franchise claim its first AFC East crown since 1995, but it also did so by winning 13 games for the first time since 1991.
The club earned the No. 2 seed in the AFC and made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game before falling to the then-reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, a result that gives McDermott and Co. plenty to build on for the upcoming campaign.
McDermott has done wonders for Buffalo, making three postseason appearances since taking over in 2017, including ending a playoff drought that began in 1999 and didn't end until his first year on the job. He isn't likely to end up anywhere else anytime soon. Expect the franchise to continue contending, with quarterback Josh Allen and McDermott forming a foundation to build around for years to come.
Miami Dolphins: Brian Flores
The Dolphins appeared to be on the verge of a playoff spot last year but ultimately were not able to get it done despite winning 10 games. It was a promising campaign for Miami, which improved heavily upon a 5-11 record in head coach Flores' first year in 2019.
There are still lingering questions from 2020, including whether quarterback Tua Tagovailoa—who took over the starting role after the team's first six games—has what it takes to be the face of the franchise.
While sorting out that situation under center will bring some stability to Miami, the team appears to be in good hands with Flores at the helm and should continue to punch up and play hard as long as he is on the sidelines.
New England Patriots: Bill Belichick
The Patriots parted ways with quarterback Tom Brady last offseason, ending a two-decade partnership between the signal-caller and head coach Bill Belichick. While Brady went on to win a seventh Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Belichick's squad suffered through an ugly campaign that ultimately resulted in the Pats missing the playoffs for just the third time since 2000.
Heading into the offseason, Belichick seemed eager to avoid that same fate in 2021. New England splurged in free agency, signing a myriad of talented players and upgrading numerous positions of need. The team came away with a slew of veteran contributors like Matt Judon, Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry and Jalen Mills, all of whom should help get this franchise back on the right track.
Unfortunately, the Pats still have more questions than answers at the quarterback spot. They did give Cam Newton, the 2020 starter, another chance by re-signing him to a one-year deal in free agency, but it's clear the 31-year-old isn’t the long-term solution.
Until Belichick can find a franchise quarterback, the Pats are likely to be fringe contenders at best. This could result in the longest-tenured head coach in the NFL finding his seat getting warmer in the coming years, but for now, it's impossible to imagine this team without a hoodie-wearing Belichick pacing the sidelines.
New York Jets: Robert Saleh
The Jets mercifully ended the Adam Gase experiment after two abysmal years that culminated in an ugly 2-14 campaign in 2020. To make matters worse, the team missed out on earning the No. 1 overall pick after it picked up a meaningless late-season victory over the Los Angeles Rams. That means it is almost certain Gang Green won't get the chance to draft Trevor Lawrence.
While missing out on the generational quarterback prospect enraged the fanbase, the Jets faithful should be pleased about the hiring of Saleh as head coach. The former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator was one of the most desirable candidates for a head coaching gig this offseason and is by all accounts an excellent leader and strategist.
Saleh has his work cut out for him in turning around an organization that hasn't made the playoffs in a decade, but he has what it takes to persevere under the bright lights of the New York market. Even if the rebuilding Jets don't turn things around right away, Saleh deserves a fair shake and should have this squad contending again sooner rather than later.
Baltimore Ravens: John Harbaugh
The Ravens have to feel they are in good hands with Harbaugh, the coach they hired in 2008. He has delivered them to nine playoff berths and a Super Bowl championship.
While Baltimore hasn't been back to the big game since winning it all following the 2012 campaign, Harbaugh has the Ravens consistently contending and usually a threat to make a deep playoff run. He's as steady as they come in the regular season, compiling a 129-79 record during his 13 years at the helm.
Harbaugh could be better in the postseason, but an 11-8 record in win-or-go-home contests is far from terrible. He's taken his team to three straight playoff trips over the past three seasons, putting a slump in which Baltimore missed the playoffs four times in in five years well behind him.
If Harbaugh wasn't axed in 2017 after missing the postseason for the third consecutive year, he isn't going to be canned regardless of what happens this coming year.
Cincinnati Bengals: Zac Taylor
Taylor has gotten off to one of the uglier starts to a head coaching career, compiling a 6-25-1 record over his first two seasons with the Bengals. That is the seventh-worst record in NFL history across a head coach's first 32 games and the worst mark in Cincinnati history.
While the team suffered some tough injuries last year, including losing No. 1 overall pick and starting quarterback Joe Burrow to a torn ACL, it must show improvement in Year 3 to warrant Taylor sticking around.
While many excused Taylor's 2-14 record in his first season with a team that no one expected to be a contender, the Bengals were just 2-6-1 before Burrow's injury in Year 2. Cincy ultimately finished the brutal year with a 4-11-1 record that earned the club the No. 5 overall pick in 2021.
While this team isn't loaded with stars, it has enough talent to field a competitive squad. If the Bengals stumble out of the gate in 2021, ownership should put an end to the Taylor era and move on before it's too late.
Cleveland Browns: Kevin Stefanski
The Browns have to be thrilled with their decision to hire Stefanski after suffering through years of ineptitude with guys like Freddie Kitchens, Gregg Williams (interim), Hue Jackson, Mike Pettine, Rob Chudzinski, Pat Shurmur and Eric Mangini at the helm.
Stefanski finally succeeded where Cleveland's eight previous head coaches failed, getting the club back into the playoffs for the first time since Butch Davis guided the team there in 2002. He was also able to do something that no Browns coach since Bill Belichick in 1994 was capable of: winning a postseason contest.
It was a magical campaign for the Browns, who won 11 games for the first time since '94. Stefanski, who became the first Cleveland coach to make the playoffs in Year 1 since Bud Carson in 1989, earned AP Coach of the Year honors and likely secured his job for the foreseeable future.
With quarterback Baker Mayfield improving and the Browns playing well on both sides of the ball, the team is poised to contend in the AFC North for years to come with Stefanski leading the way.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Tomlin
It is tough to picture the Steelers without Tomlin calling the shots, given that he's been in that role since 2007 and is the third-longest tenured head coach in the NFL.
Tomlin has been quite successful during his time in Pittsburgh, compiling a 153-86-1 record (including playoffs) and winning one Super Bowl, getting to another, claiming seven AFC North titles and making nine postseason appearances.
It has now been more than a decade since the Steelers last made a Super Bowl, however, and they have made just one playoff trip—resulting in a Wild Card Round exit to the rival Browns last season—in the past three campaigns.
The Steelers have a great chance at getting back to the playoffs following a 12-4 showing in 2020, especially with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returning for an 18th season and taking a pay cut to facilitate that goal.
If Pittsburgh can get to the playoffs and make some noise, Tomlin should keep his job, but if the club falls short or suffers another opening-round exit, expect the crowd calling for his job to get much louder.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Urban Meyer
A new era is set to begin in Jacksonville, with Urban Meyer coming in and quarterback prospect Trevor Lawrence—the Clemson star who is seemingly a lock to be selected No. 1 in the draft—being heralded as the franchise's savior.
Meyer came out of retirement for a second time to take the job. The 56-year-old finished a successful seven-year run at Ohio State after the 2018 season. He won his third national championship with the Buckeyes in 2014 and notably claimed a pair of titles with Florida during his six-year tenure from 2005-10.
While Meyer has been one of the most successful coaches in college history, he has never even held a positional job in the NFL. It remains to be seen if his coaching ability will translate to the pros, but Jacksonville is betting Meyer is more than capable of making the transition.
The Jaguars are still a long way from contending, but Meyer and Lawrence project to give them the cornerstones needed to assemble a winning team.
Houston Texans: David Culley
The Texans are in a state of disarray right now, having moved on from several veteran contributors over the past two seasons, including DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt, and are dealing with an uncertain future under center.
Twenty-two women have filed lawsuits against quarterback Deshaun Watson alleging sexual assault and misconduct. The Houston Police Department is also investigating a complaint filed against Watson last week. Prior to the lawsuits and complaint, the quarterback had reportedly been seeking a trade.
New head coach in David Culley, a former Baltimore Ravens assistant, has the unenviable task of trying to get a team on track amid a roster overhaul that saw a frenzy of free-agent signings and departures to start the offseason.
Culley likely wasn't the most desirable candidate for any of the seven teams that needed a new head coach following the 2020 season, but the 65-year-old should at least get a chance to show what he can bring to the table after more than 40 years of serving in a variety of assistant coaching roles.
The marriage between Culley and the Texans will likely be short-lived, but he could surprise doubters and stick around a while longer if he manages to make Houston a respectable force during the 2021 season.
Indianapolis Colts: Frank Reich
The Colts have to be pleased with how the Frank Reich era is going, as he helped get them into the postseason twice during his first three years. Reich has accomplished this despite having a revolving door of players at the most important position on the field, and he will once again go into a season with a new starting quarterback in 2021.
Indianapolis is coming off an impressive 11-5 showing during Philip Rivers' lone season with the club, but the veteran signal-caller called it a career after a Wild Card Round loss to the Buffalo Bills. The Colts are kicking the tires on Carson Wentz, whom they acquired in a trade after he lost his starting job with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The move reunited Wentz with Reich, who served as the Philly offensive coordinator in 2016-17. Wentz had arguably his best year as a pro in 2017, throwing for 3,296 yards and 33 touchdowns with just seven interceptions while guiding the Eagles to an 11-2 record as a starter. If he can play at that level, the Colts will have a great chance to get back into the playoffs.
Even if Wentz isn't the answer, Reich still has plenty of job security and should be around for quite some time.
Tennessee Titans: Mike Vrabel
At one point there was talk that Mike Vrabel wouldn't last long with the Titans, but he's silenced the detractors and helped turn the organization into a contender.
Vrabel is coming off his second consecutive playoff appearance in his third year with Tennessee, winning a career-high 11 games during the 2020 campaign. While the Titans disappointed in the postseason—losing in the Wild Card Round to the Ravens, whom they had upset the previous year—they are set up well to continue competing in 2021 and beyond.
Tennessee has the pieces in place to remain viable on offense thanks to a solid quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, an elite rusher in Derrick Henry and a sturdy offensive line that had three players (Nate Davis, Rodger Saffold and Ben Jones) earn at least one All-Pro vote this past season. The defense should get better next year too with the arrival of free agents Bud Dupree and Denico Autry, who will shore up an area of concern.
Vrabel took plenty of heat for opting not to hire a defensive coordinator last year to replace Dean Pees, a mistake he owned up to and fixed by promoting Shane Bowen to the role in January. That type of misstep won't cost Vrabel his job, however, and the Titans should be happy to employ him as long as he keeps winning games.
Denver Broncos: Vic Fangio
The Broncos elected not to part ways with Vic Fangio this offseason, and that decision may come back to haunt them. The team has been mired in mediocrity during Fangio's tenure, starting with a 7-9 season in 2019 and regressing to 5-11—with a 1-5 record in the AFC West—last year.
Denver seemed to shift the blame to injuries and John Elway, who stepped down as general manager, but the club is out of excuses. The chances it will have a successful season seem low, especially with one of the uglier quarterback situations in the league.
Drew Lock—a second-round pick in 2019—will likely be the starter, but he has yet to inspire much confidence as the team's first quality option at the position since Peyton Manning retired after 2015.
The Missouri product went 4-9 as a starter, completed just 57.3 percent of his passes and threw 16 touchdowns against 15 interceptions last season, far from the performance fans want from a potential franchise quarterback.
With another middling year all but assured, Fangio may not make it through the 2021 season.
Kansas City Chiefs: Andy Reid
Andy Reid has been the catalyst for Kansas City's ascension to one of the NFL's most enviable organizations. Since hiring Reid in 2013, the Chiefs have made the playoffs seven times, won five AFC West titles, been to a pair of Super Bowls and won their first championship in 50 years.
They may have fallen short in the most recent Super Bowl, but they addressed the offensive line in the wake of that defeat. It was the most glaring issue that caused them to lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but free agents Kyle Long and Joe Thuney should fix that, and the unit will likely further improve with some additions in the tackle-rich draft class.
Kansas City projects to remain a contender—if not the odds-on favorite—going into every season that includes Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs aren't going anywhere any time soon, and Reid isn't likely to exit the organization in any other manner than a retirement that caps his Hall of Fame career.
Las Vegas Raiders: Jon Gruden
The Raiders made a splash in 2018 when they finally managed to coax coveted head coach Jon Gruden out of the broadcast booth and back to the sideline.
Gruden just finished the third year of a 10-year, $100 million contract, and the club can't be happy with its return on investment. He has gone just 19-29 and has yet to record a winning season. Las Vegas came close last season, going 8-8, but it was inconsistent at best and never put it all together.
The Raiders made some puzzling moves in free agency, doing a great job to address their most glaring hole by adding a pass-rusher in Yannick Ngakoue but also gutting the offensive line—one of the team's bright spots—by trading several starters. The team made a frenzy of deals that saw left tackle Trent Brown traded to the New England Patriots, center Rodney Hudson dealt to the Arizona Cardinals and guard Gabe Jackson moved to the Seattle Seahawks.
A lack of consistency in the trenches could hurt the offense, which looked to be on the up and up following a solid showing by quarterback Derek Carr.
Carr's performance will likely determine if Gruden sticks around for the duration of his contract, as he has shown he is capable of performing like a franchise quarterback. He breached the 4,000-yard mark for the third straight year and had a 27-to-9 touchdown-to-interception ratio—his best in the Gruden era—in 2020, but he needs more support if the Raiders are going to reliably compete in a tough division.
The bottom line is that Las Vegas expected excellence with Gruden, and he has not delivered. There have been flashes, but unless the team finally takes a leap, it will be looking for a new head coach long before 2028.
Los Angeles Chargers: Brandon Staley
The Chargers made an intriguing hire this offseason when they tabbed Brandon Staley, the defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams last year, to get them back to the playoffs for just the second time since the 2014 season.
It was interesting since the Bolts finally seem to have found a franchise quarterback to build around in Justin Herbert. Instead of bringing in a guru to develop him, the organization elected to go with a defensive-minded head coach after dispatching the offensive-oriented Anthony Lynn.
Still, Staley was a high-upside pickup for a club that has long been criticized for playing it safe. The 38-year-old had only one season under his belt as a coordinator, but it was a special one in which he crafted a unit that led the league in many major statistical categories. He was creative and maximized the less-heralded talent on the roster—turning guys like Troy Hill and Leonard Floyd into impact contributors for the Rams defense—and Staley will be expected to invigorate the Chargers roster in a similar manner.
While it was a bit of a dice roll, Los Angeles could be forming the nucleus of one of the league's most exciting young contenders by pairing Staley with Herbert. If the move pans out, expect the two to work together for a long time.
Dallas Cowboys: Mike McCarthy
The Mike McCarthy era in Dallas got off to a terrible start when the team failed to make the postseason in a year that the NFC East sent 7-9 Washington to the playoffs.
While losing quarterback Dak Prescott—who finally signed an extension this offseason to bring stability to the position—early in the year didn't help, there was a clear regression by the offense even though the Cowboys employed one of the top backup signal-callers in the league in Andy Dalton.
Before Prescott's injury, he was on pace for a great year with 1,856 yards and nine touchdowns against four interceptions and had completed 151 of 222 passing attempts. If he can pick up where he left off, the Cowboys should boast one of the better offenses and get right back in the playoff hunt.
McCarthy clearly deserves another chance, but he can't afford to flounder out of the gate for an organization that expects nothing short of a Super Bowl run.
The Cowboys extended Prescott and kept the veteran head coach to win now. They need to have a good draft to fill in the holes on the roster—offensive tackle and tight end are two areas of concern still—but should have all the pieces in place soon enough to win a wide-open division. Failing to do so will likely result in Jerry Jones' handing McCarthy a pink slip rather than giving him another chance in 2022.
New York Giants: Joe Judge
The Giants had been struggling to find an adequate replacement for Tom Coughlin—who helped New York win a pair of Super Bowls—but seem to have finally found someone worth getting excited about in Joe Judge.
After flailing about for almost a half-decade with Ben McAdoo, Steve Spagnuolo and Pat Shurmur, the G-Men finally had a promising campaign with Judge in 2020. Though they won only six games, they showed flashes of what they could become with consistency, health and shrewd transactions.
New York has already made a few moves that fit that last description, most notably inking the top free-agent wide receiver in Kenny Golladay. Big Blue also acquired a high-upside cornerback in Adoree' Jackson and rounded out the roster with several low-key signings like tight end Kyle Rudolph and running back Devontae Booker.
The Giants hold the No. 11 pick in the draft and should get another impact player there, plus star running back Saquon Barkley will be back after he missed all but two games in 2020 with a torn ACL.
Things are starting to come together for Judge and Co., so barring unexpected regression, the head coach isn't likely to land on the hot seat anytime soon.
Philadelphia Eagles: Nick Sirianni
It would be hard to find a coach with fewer expectations for 2021 than new Eagles hire Nick Sirianni. The club landed the former Colts offensive coordinator during an offseason in which it was mired in salary-cap hell and cut ties with a good number of the veterans on the roster.
Philadelphia is undergoing a full-scale rebuild after blowing things up following an abysmal 2020. The team parted with head coach Doug Pederson—who helped win its only Super Bowl in his second year in 2017—despite suffering just one losing season in the last four. It also traded former starting quarterback Carson Wentz after he had arguably his worst year as a pro and lost his job to rookie Jalen Hurts.
The Eagles were once thought to be exploring quarterback options with the No. 6 pick, but they traded back to acquire more draft capital. The organization wasn't a major player in the free-agency market and is poised to go into 2021 with Hurts as the starter and a ton of new faces in the lineup stemming from the team's projected draft haul.
It's worth watching what Sirianni can get from this roster, but he'll need some time to craft it into a team capable of winning games reliably. A strong draft will be instrumental in determining his future, as the Eagles are loaded with 11 picks and could change their fortunes with some smart selections.
Sirianni shouldn't be on the hot seat until at least next season and deserves a chance to show what he can do with time to build the Eagles from the ground up.
Washington Football Team: Ron Rivera
Washington drew quite a few groans from its fanbase when it decided to bring in Ron Rivera last offseason, but so far the hiring has looked wise. The former Carolina Panthers head coach took his new squad to the postseason in his first year despite having an unenviable quarterback situation.
Rivera made the most out of a crop of Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins Jr., Kyle Allen and Taylor Heinicke. Smith and Allen got hurt, Haskins was released, and Heinicke was the last man standing by the end of a 7-9 regular season.
While the Football Team still doesn't have a long-term answer, it made the best possible move with its hand by inking Ryan Fitzpatrick to a one-year deal in free agency. The veteran will help Washington remain competitive in 2021 while it tries to unearth a potential franchise signal-caller in the draft or via trade.
It isn't likely the Football Team can make another run to the playoffs with a losing record, but it improved this offseason with the Fitzpatrick signing and other free-agency scores like cornerback William Jackson III and wideout Curtis Samuel. Washington should only get better in the draft too, with the club holding eight selections, four of which fall within the first 83 selections.
Rivera deserves to keep his job if he can continue to keep this group afloat while working to address the future of the quarterback position.
Chicago Bears: Matt Nagy
The Bears made it back to postseason for the second time in three years under Matt Nagy, but it took an expanded field and a late-season collapse by teams ahead of them.
Chicago is coming off back-to-back 8-8 seasons after starting the Nagy era with a 12-4 record, with a failure to improve that has fans in the Windy City anxious about the club's future with the head coach.
Nagy has yet to win a playoff game, and Chicago came up well short a few months ago when it lost 21-9 in the Wild Card Round to the New Orleans Saints.
The most glaring issue with Nagy's teams has been the quarterback position, with Mitchell Trubisky failing to live up to the hype after he was selected No. 2 in 2017 and Nick Foles being unable to rekindle the magic that made him a Super Bowl MVP.
That problem certainly wasn't solved this offseason, when the Bears were widely panned for tantalizing their supporters with rumors of a Russell Wilson trade before settling on Andy Dalton.
Assuming Dalton doesn't pull a career-best season at age 33, Chicago isn't likely to take the step forward it needs to become anything more than a wild-card squad. Hitting on a quarterback prospect would do wonders for the Bears, but they aren't likely to get a crack at one at No. 20.
Barring a great draft and a quarterback solution, Chicago could put an end to the Nagy experiment after the 2021 campaign.
Detroit Lions: Dan Campbell
The Lions are clearing the decks and entering a rebuild after giving up on head coach Matt Patricia before a brutal 2020 season even wrapped up. The team turned over the keys to Dan Campbell, the former New Orleans Saints assistant head coach who will be charged with maximizing the talent remaining.
Many fans in the Motor City are simply happy the Patricia era is over, and many of the players from that unfruitful tenure have been jettisoned. The team has cut eight players since the start of March—parting ways with starters like defensive tackle Danny Shelton and cornerback Justin Coleman—and more may be on the way out soon.
It won't be easy to win games in 2021, though, especially with impact contributors in quarterback Matthew Stafford, wideout Kenny Golladay and others departing this offseason. The team does have a veteran quarterback in Jared Goff—who came over in the Stafford deal with the Los Angeles Rams—but it remains to be seen if he can be more than a stopgap.
Campbell has plenty of time to get the Lions on the right track, having signed a six-year deal to become the organization's 29th head coach. He performed admirably when called upon to be the interim head coach for Miami in 2015, going 5-7 after inheriting a squad that started 1-3 under Joe Philbin.
Expect the Detroit brass to be patient with Campbell, who should win over his players and have them motivated to punch above their talent level as the team builds through the draft.
Green Bay Packers: Matt LaFleur
The Packers have become one of the best teams in the league since they hired Matt LaFleur two years ago. There was some concern the squad might regress after firing Mike McCarthy after 13 seasons, but LaFleur has elevated this organization.
Since LaFleur took over, Green Bay has compiled a 26-6 regular-season record and won a pair of titles in the NFC North. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers also won his third MVP for his transcendent season at the age of 37.
The one knock on LaFleur has been the Packers' inability to win the NFC Championship Game in back-to-back trips. The team earned its first home conference title game last year since Rodgers became the starter in 2008, but it still couldn't get it done against the eventual champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
That loss dropped LaFleur to 2-2 in the postseason, but the 41-year-old will likely stay in Green Bay for years to come. His seat is as cold as it can get and should not even begin to heat up at least until Rodgers announces his retirement, whenever that may be.
Minnesota Vikings: Mike Zimmer
The Vikings have been one of the steadier teams in the league during seven seasons under Mike Zimmer. The club has compiled a 64-47-1 record in that span and won at least seven games each year.
While Zimmer has avoided any abhorrent campaigns, he has just three seasons with double-digit wins and has made the playoffs on just three occasions—never in consecutive years. During those trips to the postseason, Minnesota has gone just 2-3 and only made it as far as the NFC Championship Game once.
Those playoff failures, combined with the fact that the team is coming off a mediocre 7-9 campaign, have Zimmer's seat heating up. There hasn't been much to get excited about in the Twin Cities since a 13-3 record and NFC Championship Game appearance in 2017.
With quarterback Kirk Cousins now set for his fourth year with Minnesota—and accounting for a massive $31 million cap hit—the franchise needs to see improvement to justify the investment. If Zimmer doesn't get more out of Cousins and the rest of the roster and the offense doesn't get a bump from new coordinator Klint Kubiak, expect the Vikings to go a different direction.
Atlanta Falcons: Arthur Smith
The Falcons' job opened up this offseason after the team mercifully put an end to the Dan Quinn era, but it hardly looked like a desirable gig for the top candidates. The organization settled on Arthur Smith—the 38-year-old who jump-started the Tennessee Titans offense as its coordinator for the last two seasons—but still has much to sort out going into the draft.
Atlanta still has a load of veteran talent, including quarterback Matt Ryan and wideout Julio Jones, but it hasn't been a contender since its epic Super Bowl collapse at the end of the 2016 season. The Falcons are coming off their worst season since 2013, having won just four games and seemingly found new ways to lose close contests.
If Atlanta decides on a full-fledged rebuild, expect it to jettison some familiar faces during the draft in exchange for young prospects and future value. The MMQB's Albert Breer reported that the Falcons have been exploring their options with the No. 4 pick but will likely stay put and select a potential franchise quarterback, opening the door for Ryan's eventual exit.
Even if Ryan remains on the roster for 2021, Smith has a chance to turn things around with the players still lingering from the Quinn days, but this is a tall task given how poorly the Falcons performed in 2020.
Regardless of which path the Falcons take, there won't be high expectations for Smith in 2021. He'll get some time to rework the roster to fit his vision and shouldn't be judged until his first draft class has had at least a year to prove itself.
Carolina Panthers: Matt Rhule
The excitement surrounding the start of the Matt Rhule era reached a high five weeks into the season when the Panthers won three straight games to improve to 3-2. The team fell off after that, losing five in a row and finishing 5-11.
Rhule still did enough during his first season to warrant more time, specifically with the quarterback position still a major question mark. The team gave Teddy Bridgewater a shot to see if he could be the answer after a successful stint as Drew Brees' backup with the rival New Orleans Saints, but it is now apparent that the veteran was only a temporary solution.
On Monday, Carolina traded for the New York Jets' Sam Darnold. The club also holds the No. 8 pick, which could net it one of the better quarterback prospects on the board depending on how the earlier selections unfold.
This deal was a big step forward for the organization, giving the Panthers both a high-upside quarterback and the flexibility to select the best player available when they are on the clock. Whether that is a signal-caller is to be determined, but Carolina is well positioned to improve.
New Orleans Saints: Sean Payton
The Saints have been one of the most consistent franchises in the league over the last 15 years, largely thanks to the pairing of head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. A wrench was thrown into that smooth operation when Brees announced his retirement this offseason, meaning New Orleans will be without the longtime starter for the first time since 2005.
Payton—the second-longest-tenured head coach in the NFL—has amassed a 143-81 record in the regular season and delivered seven divisional titles in one of the league's toughest divisions.
Though Payton has helped guide the Saints to nine postseason berths, he hasn't been as successful in the playoffs. New Orleans is just 9-8 and has made only one Super Bowl appearance, winning it all in 2009.
It has been more than a decade since that magical title run, however, and the Saints have struggled to replicate anything close to that. They finally made it back to the conference championship in the 2018 campaign but lost in stunning fashion to the Los Angeles Rams, the second consecutive year in which the team was on the wrong side of a miraculous ending.
The journey back to the big game will be much more difficult without the surefire Hall of Famer. The team is likely going to turn over the offense to Jameis Winston, who re-signed on a one-year deal. While he has a chance to rehabilitate a career that hasn't met the expectations of his status as the 2015 No. 1 pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Winston is far from a lock to keep New Orleans competitive.
After releasing numerous veteran contributors because of salary-cap constraints, the Saints need a strong draft. The team cut Kwon Alexander, Emmanuel Sanders, Janoris Jenkins, Jared Cook, Josh Hill and several other vets to get cap-compliant, opening the door for the impending rookie class to play a big role.
New Orleans will be asking a lot from the young players and unproven talents that will be filling out the depth chart. If the Saints fall off and miss the playoffs, they could consider parting ways with Payton.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bruce Arians
Bruce Arians finally broke through and won his first Super Bowl title last season, guiding the Bucs to a championship with his laid-back demeanor and calm presence.
While much of the credit for Tampa Bay's resurgence deservedly goes to quarterback Tom Brady—who changed the organization's fortunes when he signed with it last offseason—Arians played a major role in not only getting Brady to join the club but also crafting the squad into a contender after an up-and-down start to the 2020 campaign.
The Bucs went into their Week 13 bye having lost two games in a row and were in danger of missing the playoffs, but Arians used the break to rework the playbook and strategize with his superstar signal-caller. The team emerged for the better, making simple but humble changes to the playbook that resulted in eight straight wins.
At age 68, Arians is one of the oldest coaches in the league. He just became the oldest coach to win a championship and has little left to prove. It's unknown how much longer he wants to coach, but he's earned the right to keep his job until he retires.
Arizona Cardinals: Kliff Kingsbury
The Cardinals are emerging as one of the most exciting young teams in the NFL, but it's uncertain if they have the right head coach.
Kliff Kingsbury still has to prove he's a reliable winner after finishing his tenure at Texas Tech with a 35-40 record and starting his NFL career 13-18-1. Arizona did improve from 5-10-1 in his first season to 8-8.
But last year was still disappointing, as the squad appeared poised to make its first playoff appearance since 2015 after starting 5-2. The Cardinals, however, collapsed, losing their last two games and five of their last seven.
This year will be a pivotal one, especially as Kingsbury looks to push quarterback Kyler Murray to the next level. The young signal-caller has started his career with two strong seasons but will be expected to make a leap.
If Kingsbury can't get it done this year—especially after the additions of J.J. Watt and A.J. Green in free agency—the Cardinals have every right to fire him and find someone who can make the playoffs with the talented roster.
Los Angeles Rams: Sean McVay
The Rams changed how NFL teams approach hiring head coaches when they rolled the dice on Sean McVay in 2017. Though he was just 30 years old at the time—becoming the youngest head coach in the modern era—McVay proved years of experience weren't necessary to be successful.
Since he took over the reins, McVay has guided the Rams—who went 4-12 the season prior—to four consecutive winning seasons and a 43-21 record with three postseason appearances, a pair of NFC West titles and a Super Bowl berth. Los Angeles is still hunting for an elusive championship, but ownership likely could not be happier with the hiring.
The Rams are going all in on winning a title in McVay's fifth season, swinging a blockbuster trade to upgrade the quarterback position from Jared Goff to Matthew Stafford. The defense will also return many of the the key starters from the No. 1-ranked unit last year, including Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and Leonard Floyd.
The only way McVay's seat will get hot is if the Rams implode after investing so much money and future value in this season. The team is expecting playoff results, and an early exit or failing to even make the field could result in calls for McVay's firing.
San Francisco 49ers: Kyle Shanahan
The 49ers suffered a dreaded Super Bowl hangover last season, going from coming up a few plays short of being crowned to missing the playoffs entirely. Much of those failures can be pinned on a wildly unlucky string of injuries to many top contributors. Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Raheem Mostert and myriad other starters all were out with injuries for various stretches.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan can't be pleased with how things played out, as the team's 6-10 record dropped him to 29-35 during his four-year tenure. It was his third losing season since he took the role, and it's possible team brass will have seen enough if the Niners can't get back to the playoffs.
Shanahan still has shown enough flashes to warrant a fair shake this year, especially after the club invested so heavily in Trent Williams in free agency. The team dished out a six-year, $138.1 million deal for the star left tackle, who should help keep their quarterback upright.
The biggest storyline looming is which signal-caller Williams will be protecting, as there is a chance Garoppolo is on his way out after four mostly injury-plagued years. The team owns the No. 3 pick after trading with the Miami Dolphins and seems likely to use it on one of the top quarterback prospects.
If the 49ers whiff on the pick, it will set the franchise back significantly. Fortunately for Shanahan—widely regarded as an offensive mastermind—the quarterback the team selects will have a great chance to succeed with the pieces in place and could help San Francisco take a major leap forward, which would greatly enhance Shanahan's job security.
Seattle Seahawks: Pete Carroll
The Seahawks have been one of the more successful franchises of the last decade, a run that began in 2010 when the team lured Pete Carroll away from USC and back to the pro game. Since then, Seattle has been to the postseason in all but two years, a stretch that includes a pair of Super Bowl appearances and one championship.
Despite those feats and an impressive 12-4 showing in 2020, Seattle made headlines this offseason because quarterback Russell Wilson had become disgruntled with the franchise's inability to protect him. Trade rumors swirled, but the Seahawks kept the seven-time Pro Bowler.
While Carroll may have to compromise with Wilson to maintain harmony in the locker room—Wilson reportedly "stormed out" of a meeting last season after his suggestions to improve the offense weren't taken seriously—the coach's job shouldn't be on the line after all the success he has had.
The team is still well positioned to compete going forward and should not only get back to the playoffs but also improve on its 1-3 record over its last three trips as long as Wilson remains on the roster.
There is work to be done in the draft to patch holes on the offensive line and in the secondary, but unless the Seahawks fall off a cliff and have one of their worst seasons ever, Carroll won't be going anywhere.