NFL News & Analysis

NFL Head Coach Carousel: Five coaches facing the most pressure, plus two trade candidates

2T4N24B Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley gestures during an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

• Bears may opt to pair a new franchise QB with a new head coach: Matt Eberflus could ultimately get another year because there has been tangible progress, but it may also make sense to start fresh.

• Brandon Staley faces mounting pressure: The Chargers' defense ranks dead last in the NFL in expected points allowed per play through Week 11, and Staley appeared frustrated in his recent end-of-game press conference.

• Draft and trade for yourself: Try PFF's Mock Draft Simulator — trade picks and players and mock for your favorite NFL team.

Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

The Las Vegas Raiders took the meaning of “Black Monday” to new extremes with the midnight Halloween axing of head coach Josh McDaniels, and the NFL coaching carousel figures to have a few more open seats in the coming months.

Over the past couple of weeks, offensive coordinators Ken Dorsey with the Buffalo Bills and Matt Canada with the Pittsburgh Steelers were relieved of their duties, as well. This is particularly notable in Pittsburgh, where an in-season coaching change had not been made in more than 80 years. NFL teams are operating differently in many respects recently, and perhaps patience with struggling coaches will be harder to come by going forward.

The proverbial hot seat is getting progressively warmer for a growing list of head coaches around the NFL, with a few very tough losses in Week 11 perhaps dashing hopes of a late-season turnaround. There can always be a surprise or two if an owner had higher expectations for their club than the public in a given year, or if there are private front office power dynamic/locker room issues.

We’ll start with the five coaches whose seats we think are currently at the hottest Scoville level, ranging from ghost pepper to jalapeño at this juncture.

Ron Rivera, Washington Commanders

The Commanders and new owner Josh Harris were likely going to overhaul the entire football operation this offseason, barring a miraculous 2023 campaign. But now sitting at 4-7 after an ugly loss to the hapless New York Giants that featured six offensive turnovers and a defense that allowed undrafted rookie Tommy DeVito to throw for 9.5 yards per attempt and three touchdowns, it’s a matter of when, not if, this job opens up.

Many around the league believe this could be one of the more attractive openings this offseason, if not the most attractive, with the potential that Sam Howell is a franchise quarterback on an extremely cheap deal, five draft picks in the top 100 and an owner willing to spend in free agency. Washington is currently top five in projected 2024 cap space, and a new regime could completely overhaul the football operation to their liking — but also with the benefit of some very appealing foundational pieces in place, such as wide receivers Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson and interior defenders Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne.

Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Chargers

The Chargers' defense now ranks dead last in the NFL in expected points allowed per play through Week 11 after the struggling Green Bay Packers offense and quarterback Jordan Love moved the ball consistently against them in Week 11, and that’s the side of the ball Staley has built — with several massive investments — and coached since his arrival.

Staley has grown increasingly frustrated at press conferences, and one could surmise he feels the pressure mounting. It came as a bit of a surprise that he survived the 27-point playoff collapse to the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. It looks like there’s close to no chance that will happen again.

Frank Reich, Carolina Panthers

A one-and-done coaching tenure is a bit of a rarity in the NFL unless it involves a host of non-football concerns, such as Urban Meyer in Jacksonville, in addition to poor play on Sundays, but this legacy coaching staff in Carolina has completely failed No. 1 overall pick quarterback Bryce Young. More importantly, owner David Tepper might be the least patient owner in the NFL and MLS, never afraid to make a move, so we shouldn’t rule anything out.

The Panthers are near the bottom of the NFL in motion rate and play-action rate, deploying a very stale and stagnant offense that rarely schemes receivers open or brings in extra protection for Young. Reich handed off play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Thomas Brown for a few weeks before taking the reins once again, presumably a sign he knows he needs to prove some things down the stretch. He also had very candid comments about how hands-on Tepper can be, and they weren’t exactly glowing remarks.

Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers' brass certainly knew this season was all about resetting the roster, so it’s not as if Bowles has gotten less out of the talent on this team than we should have expected. Unfortunately, this was the same situation Bowles faced with the New York Jets.

The interesting dynamic here is the Buccaneers were effectively backed into a corner when Bruce Arians stepped down in late March and Bowles succeeded him, so a true coaching search did not take place. After the defensive performance in the Super Bowl against Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, Bowles deserved it, but what we’re getting at is we don’t really know if this was the ownership's plan all along.

Bowles also remains one of the more conservative coaches in the NFL from a decision-making standpoint:

Bowles is nonetheless an extremely creative defensive play-caller who deserves credit for adapting his game plans to opponents on a week-to-week basis and trying new things as offenses evolve to often challenge his core principles. If this move were to happen, he should be an NFL defensive coordinator right away in 2024 — if he wants to pursue that opportunity.

Matt Eberflus, Chicago Bears

The Bears' performance leveled out over the past six weeks after a disastrous start to the year, even with undrafted rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent thrust into starting action, but coaching decisions effectively threw away a game against the NFC North division rival Detroit Lions in Week 11. Chicago kicked an extra point to go up six points instead of going for two to gain a full touchdown advantage, a decision they’ve made two weeks in a row. Later, Chicago had a fourth-and-1 on the Lions’ 23-yard line and kicked a 40-yard field goal to go up nine points.

The Lions scored a quick touchdown in 1:16, held the Bears to a three-and-out with just 26 seconds of game time elapsing and then drove down the field to win the game with another score on Eberflus’ defense. Chicago became the first team in NFL history to win the turnover margin by three, have at least 40 minutes of possession and lose. Eberflus is now 6-21 over two seasons in Chicago, and while there has been encouraging defensive growth from young players, the operation simply has not been good enough.

Last but certainly not least, Chicago has now dealt with two separate firings of members of the coaching staff. Eberflus could ultimately get another year because there has been tangible progress, but it may also make sense to pair a new franchise quarterback with a new head coach.

Potential Trade Candidates

The head coach trade market had been largely dormant for nearly 15 years before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers acquired Bruce Arians from the Arizona Cardinals back in 2019, which the Denver Broncos followed up with the blockbuster acquisition of Sean Payton from the New Orleans Saints.

The top of the market becoming more refined with the Payton trade could help outline what deals will look like going forward. The legendary Bill Belichick is the hot topic this season after the Patriots' 2-8 start.

Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

It would still come as a shock if the Patriots moved on from Belichick after the remarkable reign he’s had in New England, but perhaps owner Robert Kraft and Belichick agree that a mutual parting of ways is the best path forward for all parties.

Belichick is in his 70s and maybe doesn’t want to endure a full-scale rebuild, which is undeniably necessary, but could step into a more win-now situation elsewhere. The Washington Commanders are very interesting here, especially after adding second- and third-round picks at the trade deadline.

In a way, Belichick signing an extension this past offseason probably helps more than it hurts, whereas Denver had to sign Payton to a top-of-market deal after acquiring his services. We’d imagine a similar compensation package of a first-round pick and a Day 2 pick would be in play, even with Belichick being more than a decade older than Payton.

Mike Vrabel, Tennessee Titans

If the Patriots do trade Bill Belichick, what does New England do to replace him? Here’s a crazy idea that maybe isn’t so crazy: they bring back a franchise legend on the field to lead the sideline, where he’s already proven to be more than capable in Tennessee.

This approach could help them to retain very good position coaches, including linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, who may choose to leave with a different move. Mayo’s rookie year crossed over with Vrabel’s final season with the Patriots before he finished his playing career with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Titans probably should have torn the whole operation down this past offseason with new general manager Ran Carthon coming aboard, working to cut costs while getting younger. Instead, Ryan Tannehill will likely be paid $27 million for two touchdown passes and six interceptions, and Tennessee sits in last place in the AFC South at 3-7.

Vrabel probably got more out of his talent over the previous five years than any coach in the NFL, but the writing was on the wall heading into 2023. For all we know, Vrabel and Carthon were in lockstep with every decision, but if not, maybe Tennessee also adds premium draft capital and builds around quarterback Will Levis from scratch.


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