The National Football League — whether we like it or not — is a fickle creature of highs and lows, beginnings and endings, and stagnancy and turnover.
The wake of “Black Monday” firings and their subsequent shockwaves through the league have openings in Arizona, Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, New York, and Oakland for some of the brightest offensive and defensive minds to fill the void.
Here are some of the best fits for each team — as well as a fallback plan (secondary option) — from a battery of former head coaching and offensive and special teams coordinator candidates:
1. New York
It’s not just the allure of the No. 1 market in sports — regardless of which type of ball is used — that makes the Big Apple a primo destination.
It’s also the 2018 No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft that could lure possible franchise-defining quarterbacks Sam Darnold or Josh Rosen to the Giants and the stability both new General Manager David Gettleman and veteran Eli Manning could provide either during the interim of their development.
This is, seemingly, the best-case scenario for Josh McDaniels.
McDaniels, who flamed out in Denver and received a fair share of fans’ ire after tension with former Pro Bowler Jay Cutler led to the quarterback’s trade to Chicago in 2009, would have the opportunity to hand pick Manning’s successor and have stop-gaps in the future Hall of Fame and Geno Smith to ensure either Darnold or Rosen is groomed appropriately — a lá Jimmy Garoppolo and Tom Brady.
Neither quarterback would be devoid of offensive talent if suddenly thrust onto center stage because of an unforeseen injury.
Odell Beckham, Jr. is expected to make a full recovery and second-year receiver Sterling Shepard saw an uptick in yardage on fewer receptions. Paul Perkins began to establish himself as a three-down back before his injury and the Giants have the remainder of the draft fill the position.
Remember: Chicago’s Jordan Howard was drafted in the fifth round and Denver Bronco Super Bowl Champion Terrell Davis was drafted in the sixth.
Both former Atlanta Falcon Jamal Anderson and NFL legend and former Oakland Raider great Bo Jackson was drafted in the seventh.
The level of media attention in New England, though a small-market city, could have possibly prepared McDaniels the best out of the field to handle the pressure associated with the New York Football Giants.
Fallback Option: Frank Reich, Philadelphia Eagles OC
Jim Schwartz, your second chance at head coaching may come sooner rather than later.
The most surprising of the coaching vacancies came after the retirement of 65-year-old heralded offensive genius Bruce Arians, who decided to step away from the game after claiming victory No. 50 and becoming the winningest coach in the franchise’s history after Sunday’s 26-24 finish against Seattle. While the win allowed Arians to ride off into the sunset, the aftermath leaves a struggling offense without a leader and one of the league’s most promising defenses with question marks concerning its structure when a new coach is hired.
Despite those question marks, Arizona’s arguably one of the top two landing pads given how Arians and defensive coordinator James Bettcher re-built the defense in 2017.
Enter Schwartz, a Detroit castoff-turned-Philidelphia DC that turned the Eagles’ defense from one of the league’s worst to one of the best. He also has likely learned from lessons of failure in the Motor City and doesn’t have to completely retool Arizona’s 3-4 defense.
According to Rotoworld.com, core linebacker Deone Buchanan has a club option for 2018 and Budda Baker, Chandler Jones, Tyrann Matthieu, Corey Peters, Patrick Peterson, Hassan Reddick are signed through 2020. The Cardinals have Josh Mauro and Robert Nkemdiche — Frostee Rucker’s 23-year-old backup — locked up until 2019, too.
Rucker, Karlos Dansby, and Tramon Williams are the only base-package starters expected to enter free agency during the offseason.
Outside linebacker Chandler Jones closed the season with a league-leading 17.0 sacks and had at least one sack in 12 of the season’s first 14 games. Disruptive vs. both the run and the pass, Jones had an NFL-best 39 tackles for losses since the start of the 2016 season going into the Week 15 matchup with the Giants missed just 17 snaps all season up until that point.
Fallback Option: Steve Wilks, Carolina Panthers DC
Like it or not, Jon Gruden’s relationship with the franchise and his nine-year absence from the NFL sideline may make him a “marriage made in heaven” for Raider Nation.
With Derek Carr less than two months removed from a transverse fracture in his back during a season that was the second worst of his four NFL seasons and an offense that was near the bottom third in terms of points per game (No. 18), yards per game (No. 18), and rushing yards per game (No. 23), Oakland is in need of reconstruction via Gruden’s grinder.
The pass offense under Todd Downing was only slightly better at No. 16.
Gruden not only knows the interworking of the Raiders after spending four seasons as its head coach between 1998 and 2001 during the Al Davis Era. He also led Oakland to a a 12-4 record in 2000, the most successful season in a decade, and its first division title since 1990. He and the Raiders lost to eventual Super Bowl Champion Baltimore in the AFC Championship that season.
There are viable weapons on both sides of the ball in Carr, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Bruce Irvin, Karl Joseph, Marshawn Lynch, Khalil Mack, and Cordarrelle Patterson and outliers and potentials like 2017 draft picks cornerback Gareon Conley (No. 24, Ohio State) and offensive tackle David Sharpe (No. 129, Florida).
There is also the matter of the 2018 NFL Draft and the Raiders’ 11 picks — including No. 17 and No. 48 in the first and second rounds.
Fallback Option: Pat Shurmur, Minnesota Vikings OC
Having arm talent like Matt Stafford — who improved after the retirement of Calvin Johnson — is top-notch bait to have when trying to lure a fish as big as Pat Shurmur.
His 9-23 record as Cleveland’s head coach in 2011 and 2012 won’t inspire confidence, but he’s resurrected Case Keenum’s career and turned the journeyman into a viable NFL starter. In addition to putting Keenum in a position to vie for a Super Bowl, Schurmur also developed Donovan McNabb as the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach and mentored Sam Bradford while the then-St. Louis Rams’ OC.
While 29-year-old Stafford — he turns 30 in February — may be nine years into an NFL career, Shurmur could be the hidden key that unlocks his true potential and pushes him into the truly elite class of quarterbacks. The Lions have another aspect of its allure that may be coveted in a head coach opening — an ownership with a long history of being hands-off when it comes to football decisions.
The cupboard, much like in Oakland, is stocked on both sides.
Flexibility, it seems, is a Lions’ strength and one that allows them to go either way with their coaching decision. For a coordinator like the Pats’ Matt Patricia, who has made a career of plug-and-playing free agents into standard defensive packages, Detroit could be a prime place for him to make his head coaching debut.
Beyond Stafford’s talent the Lions posses a legitimate left tackle in Taylor Decker and center in Travis Swanson, a No. 1 cornerback and safety in Darius Slay and Glover Quinn, and a high-motor pass rushing defensive end in Ziggy Ansah (considering Detroit chooses to retain him). The salary cap is far less of a concern for NFL teams than in past seasons and Detroit is in fairly good shape, allowing it to address the wide receiver positions via free agency and follow the best-player-available model for its No. 20 draft pick in the upcoming draft.
Stealing Shurmur from NFC North rival Chicago, too, affects their 2018 playoff position. The Bears may turn to Shurmur to groom Mitch Trubisky in the event that conversations with Josh McDaniels, John DeFilippo, Jim Bob Cooter, and Frank Reich go south.
Fallback Option: Matt Patricia, New England Patriots DC
The allure of Indianapolis is less about coaching the “House that Peyton built” and more about finding a way of transforming Andrew Luck from mediocre soon-to-be journeyman to elite-level Super Bowl contender.
Said prospective coach would not only have to extinguish the dumpster fire that is the Colts’ roster, he would have to re-tool a frontline that’s painted a target on luck’s back and shortened his 2015 seasons via a lacerated kidney and surgery on his throwing shoulder to keep his investment safe.
His future will be inevitably tied to the production of Luck or the discovery of a viable, franchise-defining replacement — either through the development of a draft or trade asset. The existence of these scenarios point directly at a single name: Jim Bob Cooter.
During Cooter’s two seasons as the Lions’ quarterbacks coach and two more as offensive coordinator, Stafford has increased in passing yardage and completion percentage each year while declining in interceptions.
Stafford completed 60.3 percent of his passes for 4,257 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions in 2014 and was selected to the Pro Bowl. He’s completed 65.7 percent of his passes this season, throwing for 4,446 yards, 29 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Cooter not only has been the focal reason for Stafford’s evolution, he’s also seen the mistakes of former Head Coach Jim Caldwell — a former Colts’ head coach — and has Detroit’s most valuable asset behind him and begging him to stay in the Motor City.
Fallback Option: Frank Reich, Philadelphia Eagles OC
Coach in a city loaded with culture and could be the epicenter of former and potential champions in multiple sports in the Blackhawks, Cubs, Sox, and Bulls? Check.
Coach in a franchise with a proud fan base that has an almost cult-like following? Check.
Land in the second-biggest market in the U.S.? Check again.
Landing in Chicago should be a dream scenario outside of New York or Los Angeles — without the adding Mitchell Trubisky, Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd, or Eddie Jackson to the fishing line. The offense, though devoid of receiving talent, seems palatable and the defense seems to be on the cusp of something special.
The likeliness of him making a permanent 1,110-mile trek from New England to Illinois, however, banks on the aspects of consistency and control.
Unfortunately due to the consistent turnover of coaches and general managers since the departure of Love Smith, it isn’t. Phil Emery and Marc Trestman left the franchise’s foundation in shambles and the most current handlers, Ryan Pace and John Fox, have only marginally improved the situation with spot fixes and band-aids for bullet wounds.
The best case scenario for John Fox’s replacement begins and ends with Josh McDaniels, who may be best suited to groom Trubisky into a mini-Tom Brady or Jimmy Garoppolo lite. Coming from an environment where Bill Belichick rules Patriot Way with an iron and unchallenged fist, McDaniels is expected to want a fair share of control of the final 53-man roster, as well as who is drafted to his team.
One of those decisions may involve abandoning the Trubisky Experiment.
There is the outside chance that the Bears select a defensive-minded coach like Steve Wilks (Carolina) or Kris Richard (Seattle), but with so much of Chicago’s future tied to Trubisky, it’s hard to imagine anything other than something that could harness and develop the franchise’s most valuable asset.
Pace tied his career to the rookie after unnecessarily trading up with San Francisco in last year’s draft to acquire a quarterback that had started 13 total games on the collegiate level. Wanting to move away from Trubisky — and up to nab a quarterback the caliber of a Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, or Baker Mayfield — may not jibe with the Bears GM’s sense of self-survival.
Chicago’s offense will need to be torn down completely and rebuilt, too. Besides the lack of wide receiver talent, the Bears’ have a need on the offensive line (center, tackle) and secondary (cornerback, safety) and have yet to determine if second-round Ashland University tight end Adam Shaheen is a viable option at the position.
This is also why former Bears’ Special Teams Coordinator Dave Toub, a coaching position that requires knowledge of all aspects of football, could be a viable option to repair the franchise long-term. And though Toub’s well respected within the organization, he is an afterthought when stacked up side by side with McDaniels.
The Ohio Native and five-time Super Bowl Champion, though, may not want to board a seemingly sinking ship with that many holes, a pilot (Trubisky) he may not agree with, and a management group (Pace, Ted Phillips, and George McCaskey) that doesn’t align with his “Patriot Way” winning values. He forced Jay Cutler (who was traded to Chicago) out of Denver in 2009 after pointing out major flaws in his technique and decision-making ability and survived only two seasons with the Broncos.
The idea of a 3-5 year rebuild may also not sit well with the 41-year old offensive wunderkind.
Fallback Option: Dave Toub, Chiefs ST Coordinator
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