With the NFL regular season coming to an end yesterday, “Black Monday” is upon us. Focus will shift to the playoffs later in the week, but today, tomorrow and Wednesday are mostly about general manager and coaching moves from teams who failed to make the playoffs. As of the time of this post, the openings around the NFL are as follows.
NY Jets- Head coach and GM
Atlanta- Head coach
San Francisco- Head coach
Oakland- Head coach
Chicago- Head coach, GM, and entire coaching staff
This list could grow in the coming days, but for now here on my thoughts on each team who made moves today. I will only comment with specific names on the coaching vacancies. I’m not as familiar with candidates for the GM positions. That’s the downside of being just a fan, and not an insider… yet.
Atlanta- For me, this is the most attractive of the openings. Head coach Mike Smith was let go after a 34-3 home drubbing in a winner take all division title game against Carolina. Smith reached the playoffs in 4 of his first 5 seasons, but went just 10-22 in his last 2. A QB like Matt Ryan and wide receivers like Julio Jones and Roddy White are enough to make any coach salivate. The running game is better than people think. They need help on defense, big help. They were dead last in the league in yards and 27th in point allowed. They have no pass rush to speak of. They have some nice players on defense, but need to rebuild that side of the ball through the draft. In spite of what I just said, because Mike Smith’s pedigree was defense, I expect them to go offense with this hire. Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase will surely get a look, as will Seattle OC Darrell Bevell. Former Jets head coach Rex Ryan would be great here, but don’t hold your breath. Atlanta ownership is too safe for a brash kind of guy like Rex.
San Francisco- I’m not sure where to go here. They’ve won a lot over the past 4 years, but no playoffs this year. There’s plenty of talent here, particularly on defense when linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis are healthy, which they weren’t this here. However, I have serious questions about QB Colin Kaepernick in terms of accuracy and durability. The biggest issue for me is that management and ownership just ran off head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh can be notoriously difficult to deal with, but all he’d done is win. Yet, he was still chased back to the college ranks and his alma mater, Michigan (most likely). Due to the issues with Harbaugh, I’d be shocked if any top candidate took this gig, despite the talent. I keep hearing Mike Shanahan’s name, I doubt it. I think the 49ers will be forced to keep things in house and go with Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is also in play here.
Oakland- Another “Black Monday”, another Raiders head coaching vacancy. They are still a long way away from being a contender, but there is more hope in Raider land than in years past. Rookies QB Derrick Carr and LB Khalil Mack are the building blocks on each side of the ball. That makes 2 more building blocks than Oakland has had in past years. They would like to bring back Jon Gruden or snag Jim Harbaugh. Here in reality, look for interim head coach Tony Sparano to land the permanent gig. He’s tasted success as a head coach in Miami, and led the undermanned Raiders to 3 wins down the stretch.
NY Jets- They played hard for Rex Ryan right to the end and sent him out a winner. They have a playoff caliber defense. However, the direction of the coaching search will remain murky until they find a GM to replace John Idzik. My advice: hire a young offensive mind who wants to stick with QB Geno Smith and rebuild the offense around him. Also, don’t touch the defense, except maybe finding a touch more speed on the back end. The Jets are not as far off as most folks think.
Chicago- They are a mess. However, I’m one of the 6 or so folks who still believe in QB Jay Cutler. I’d be shocked if they find a trading partner for Cutler based on his contract. I believe his issues are all fixable. He needs to clean up his footwork a bit and be more careful with the football. Their biggest issues are on defense. They don’t do anything well and don’t have a single elite player anywhere on that side of the ball. That is why Rex Ryan is the PERFECT guy for this head coaching job. He’ll get the most out of the least with the defense. Also, he got to 2 AFC title games with Mark Sanchez. He can find success with Jay Cutler. Ryan is also well respected in the league and can build a great staff that will allow him to let the offensive minded guys work with the offense, while he coaches the hell out of that defense. Not to mention, the Chicago people would eat him up. Rex would win big in Chicago. For me, it is a no brainer. We’ll see if they go down this road.
Look for a CFB playoff preview and NFL wildcard weekend preview from me later this week.