In the NFL, there is a wide spectrum of job security.
Pressure comes in waves, of varying degrees. Owners can be difficult to satisfy. Different cities bring their unique histories and expectations and levels of patience. Media markets do the same. Players eventually tune out coaches or sour on executives. Change is constant.
In contemplating the start of the 2019 season, with at least one team already opening camp (Denver), and pouring over stats and research materials and preparing for training camp tours, my mind kept coming back to the handful of teams whom, by their actions this offseason or by the owner’s stated goals or by the way last season ended, come into this season with the heaviest weights to bear.
Which teams – and by teams, in many cases we’re really talking about coaches and general managers, because owners don’t fire themselves – come into 2019 with the most pressure to make something big happen? Who is looking over his shoulder already, or, frankly, probably should be? Who has potentially the most to lose? Thing is, it’s hard to know where to stop.
I started out thinking I would look at the quarter of the league with the most at stake, and then a top 10, but even then there were teams off the list that probably belonged on it. So ultimately, I figured what the heck – why not just take a snapshot of every team in the league and rank ’em. Considering the bizarre nature of this offseason, with management coup d’etats all the rage and one oddly-timed firing after the next, I had a hard time determining where to stop on the ol’ pressure meter. So let’s go all the way, from Bill Belickick disciple Bill O’Brien in Texas, right on down to BB himself, 1-32, who is under the most heat to get it done in the 2019 season.
Sorry, when you fire a GM who already had limited authority right before vacation and spend time when you should be trading Jadeveon Clowney leading a botched GM search that ended up with no one hired for the role, you are gonna end up high on this list. And now you are about to fight Clowney over $2M; you have problems. Tensions have been high since O’Brien’s arrival, they can’t win in the playoffs, they keep getting the QB hurt and the OL still looks like a big issue … and winning the AFC South ain’t as easy as it used to be. All eyes will be in Houston. Rising star exec Jack Easterby could end up the big winner there, but the heat is on O’Brien.
This Eli Manning/Daniel Jones thing will be a daily national story. It’s Gotham. GM Dave Gettleman makes back page tabloid headlines at every turn. So many strange decisions to defend and an ownership group that has stumbled repeatedly in recent years, with the fanbase now perpetually restless.
Jerry Jones can smell a Super Bowl and, soon enough, will have a high payroll again when he doles out some extensions. Jason Garrett is coaching for his life, without an extension, and with the Jones family overseeing football ops, it’s always the coach on the heater in Dallas. A new OC may save the day.
Arthur Blank thought he would have won a Super Bowl by now, and things have been sideways since the loss to the Patriots in Houston. When the head coach takes over his side of the ball, it’s always telling. They have shaken up the front office and made cosmetic changes, but must improve significantly, one would assume, to avoid more sweeping alterations.
Anytime the owner feels the need to put out a press release explaining why he isn’t firing anybody within hours of the season ending, um, people notice. The Jags took massive a step back a year ago and if Nick Foles can fix all their woes you would have to expect big changes. If they are sliding back, how long does Tm Coughlin stick around?
Another team that took a step back in 2018, and now in Year Two of Kirk Cousins, The $84M Fully Guaranteed QB, to say nothing of all the other big extensions handed out, they need to step up. Mike Zimmer can’t keep throttling through offensive coordinators and while GM Rick Spielman has considerable cache with ownership, they didn’t do all of this to go 8-8.
Ron Rivera’s doing the same thing Dan Quinn is – coaching his side of the ball with the expectation that the defense will improve mightily. David Tepper contemplated big changes a year ago, and while I believe this team will thrive if Cam Newton stays healthy, a new owner on the scene puts everyone on notice.
Aaron Rodgers drama has become the norm, and with a rookie head coach on the scene whose offense in Tennessee wasn’t exactly prolific, and an awkward management hierarchy out in place by de facto owner Mark Murphy, this team needs to win now. The history of the Packers would tell us the franchise is averse to change, but if this is a disaster, well, anything is possible. This isn’t about trying to win a Lombardi in three years with a young QB. It’s about now.
The Rooneys don’t do change. Never have. And Mike Tomlin is a special head coach. But, man, the turmoil of the last few years has been extreme and that locker room culture needs to get sorted out. And people expect a deep playoff run more years than not. And that next contract extension hasn’t come yet. And say what you want about Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, but that is a helluva lot of production to replace.
Dan Snyder’s track record speaks for itself. Jay Gruden has to navigate the QB situation with first-round pick Dwayne Haskins in the fold now. With Bruce Allen atop football operations, things are generally a mess, but he seems bulletproof with the owner. Others, not so much.
Many owners would have fired GM Steve Keim for the debacle that was 2018, from arrests to trade demands to firing a HC after one year to the Josh Rosen circus. No team has gambled more than the Cards on the Kyler Murray/Kliff Kingsbury duo. The bar is super low there after just getting the first-overall pick, but this can’t be anything close to last year.
12. New York Jets
So, yeah, they blew out their front office in the middle of May and while they got a guy who has the potential to be a rockstar GM in Joe Douglas, let’s just say the past six months haven’t been without considerable drama. Big things will be expected of Adam Gase’s offense right away, and the specter of Woody Johnson’s eventual return from his government position in the UK only adds layers of intrigue. That ownership group has been beleaguered.
13. Denver Broncos
Head coach Vic Fangio just got there, and John Elway is a God there, only the last few years have taken some bloom off that rose. And there is a nasty ownership fight brewing, that offense might still be pretty bleak, and Drew Lock may be playing sooner than would be optimal. If the Broncos still don’t have the makings of a quality QB by January, what will the climate be like in a city where winning seasons are the norm?
Much was made of the six-year deals Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch received, but I hear there are option years involved and, let’s face it, Year Three tends to be a defining campaign. I think this team makes major strides, but the Jimmy G payday needs to start paying off.
15. Detroit Lions
Matt Patricia’s first season at the helm saw the team drop substantially and the passing game fall apart. Matthew Stafford makes mega bucks but they ran the ball a ton. The success rate of Belichick assistants is well established. He didn’t exactly endear himself to the local fans and media in Year One.
16. Cleveland Browns
The Haslams still own the team, so anything is possible. Tumult has been the norm. But GM John Dorsey has hit home run after home run and, yes there is pressure to finally contend. But this team won two games in two years under Hue Jackson. Freddie Kitchens has a lot on his plate as a rookie head coach, but could anyone foresee a one-and-done there in any scenario after all the time they just gave Jackson? Regardless, all the hype and a bevy of prime time games brings with it more pressure.
17. Tennessee Titans
Yet another OC for Marcus Mariota, in a season that may well define his future. They find a way to get to 9-7 every year in a nondescript fashion, but need several recent draft picks to elevate their play. Mike Vrabel is entering just his second camp at the helm and this isn’t an ownership group that, aside from the quick hook for Ken Whisenhunt, seems to like to shake things up.
Bruce Arians just got there, but at this stage of his career and with his health issues in the past, this isn’t some five-year plan. And GM Jason Licht has been under some heat for a while now based on the team’s recent performance. And it’s a make-or-break year for Jameis Winston. Eventually, Arians may turn over the reigns to Todd Bowles.
19. Chicago Bears
The gains made by coach Matt Nagy in his first year there should be enough to hold off any change for quite some time. Even if they regress in 2019 – and the analytics community seems aligned in expecting at least some step back – and even if Mitch Trubisky doesn’t take a leap forward, it’s hard to imagine the fiber of the organization changing much.
Anthony Lynn has been a revelation and GM Tom Telesco quietly does an excellent job with no fanfare. However, playing second fiddle to the Rams in town ain’t easy and Philip Rivers isn’t getting any younger. I believe it’s the best roster in the league, but it has to show up in January. No jobs are on the line, but this franchise needs to make inroads into the L.A. market ASAP.
21. Buffalo Bills
It’s a big year for them, with Josh Allen expected to take a leap in his second year as starter. But I get the sense ownership understands and appreciates the long-game coach Sean McDermott and GM Brandon Beane are playing, and it’s already born some fruit. Yes, there is pressure to move ahead, but they’ve already surprised with a playoff appearance and it’s not nearly as hot as in other parts.
22. Miami Dolphins
If you pay even a little attention to the league you know the Dolphins are taking a long view to a rebuild. And the rookie head coach just lost his most trusted assistant, with Jim Caldwell taking a medical leave of absence. If anything, Fins fans should be praying for the first-overall pick and stability at the top. Of course, owner Stephen Ross hasn’t been able to stick to that, and everyone knows he loves Jim Harbaugh, so I can’t put them any lower than this.
Mike Brown doesn’t fire coaches much anymore. Zac Taylor is a baby-faced rookie head coach who just got there and now suddenly doesn’t have an offensive line. He will get to make the call on whether Andy Dalton stays beyond 2019. Patience is a virtue for this ownership group – sometimes to a fault.
Andy Reid may be the best coach in NFL history not to win a Super Bowl and the football operations are in his hands. They continue to deal with some horrific off-field player issues, but ownership is aligned with Reid and he is comfortable with young GM Brett Veach.
25. Oakland Raiders
Jon Gruden has a 10-year, $100M contract and Belichickian levels of power. Will he and new GM Mike Mayock be joined at the hip forever? Who knows. It’s a tough gig. But that is Gruden’s show for a long, long, time.
GM Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich quickly reshaped the entire franchise, they have a young, quality team that has just begun to ascend and after years of toxicity in that franchise, ownership has no fires to put out.
27. Seattle Seahawks
Brand new extension for Pete Carroll, a guy who will likely coach as long he wants. GM John Schneider is as good as it gets. The team will be in limbo for a while following the passing of owner Paul Allen and no chance of any sort of shakeups until/unless the team is eventually sold.
28. Baltimore Ravens
John Harbaugh just got a new contract and Eric DeCosta just took over as GM last year, they finished 6-1 and won the division and it’s all about new beginnings with Lamar Jackson at the helm. Ownership doesn’t like change.
Ownership gives Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis a wide swath to do as they see fit, they have turned that franchise around and Payton signed a mega-contract not that long ago. These guys get to call their own shots.
They just won a freaking Super Bowl. In Philly. And their best player is fully healthy for the first time in like two years. Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson are the first coach/exec in Eagles history not to be on some sort of a hot seat. Enjoy it Philly!
31. Los Angeles Rams
It’s only a matter of time until Sean McVay becomes one of the highest-paid coaches in the game. His influence runs deep in every part of that franchise, he already took them to a Super Bowl and has a coaching family tree sprouting branches at a ridiculous rate. McVay’s power there will only grow, as well it should.
32. New England Patriots
Bill Belichick may be the greatest coach in the history of North American professional team sports. He will be there as long as he likes and he has as much front office autonomy as any coach in NFL history. And he just won another Super Bowl. Deal with it.