As we get closer to the official start of the offseason it seems more likely there is going to be a nominal amount of turnover, at best, in the coaching and management circles.
Now is as good a time as any to explain some of the reasons why.
Among coaches and personnel people, it's been a topic of discussion for weeks, and while there is a perception among the general public about the relative ease with which a staff can be put together, and with which coaches and executives can move from one organization to another, the reality is that it's become increasingly difficult to assemble a desired staff for myriad reasons. It's also a reality that some teams will decide not to make changes to their staff at least in part based on the inability to land those candidates deemed better.
"No one's really that mobile," one longtime personnel executive said. "Everybody is pretty restricted."
Unless a coach already under contract is being interviewed for a head coaching job, or a personnel exec is being interviewed for a promotion to general manager that would involve final say on personnel, their existing team can block any meeting. Many out there think that only a lateral move can be blocked. That is not true on the coaching or personnel side.
Last offseason, for instance, the Redskins blocked special teams coach Danny Smith from interviewing for the same position with the Packers, and also blocked secondary coach Jerry Gray from interviewing for the defensive coordinator position with the Texans, which would have been an obvious promotion. The only reason the Browns were able to hire personnel executive George Kokinis from the Ravens is that he was promised final say on the roster in Cleveland, which he did not have in Baltimore (now, whether he actually got that authority over coach Eric Mangini in Cleveland is an entirely different matter).
Back in the day, it used to be you offered a promotion, you got your guy in town for an interview, and he got a deal done. That is no longer the case. Throw in the fact that the economy has been down, and, after the 2010 season there is no labor security -- the CBA expires and who knows what the next model will look like -- and thus some teams are hesitant to blow out existing staff only to bring in new ones with the possibility that there could be a work stoppage of some sort in 2011. None of that promotes a whole lot of movement.
There is also the matter of college coaches continuing to make higher salaries, and in many cases without having to work the kind of hours that are the norm in the NFL. It used to be that the superior benefits and pensions were a premier drawing card for the pro teams. But with those being cut for coaches by several teams in the last year, some top assistants, unable to interview for coordinator jobs and not quite deemed head coach candidates, are looking harder at college positions. Gray, for instance, was highly interested in the Memphis job, according to league sources, and would have taken it (it appeared to be his, but the university went in another direction).
Furthermore, many teams are inserting language into contracts that include coaches having to take significant paycuts should there be a work stoppage in 2011. All the more reason college might look like a better alternative to some. However, according to league sources, many teams are also inserting language preventing movement even to the college ranks for head coaching jobs, and, yes, some contracts even exclude a move to coach a high school, according to sources.
As the pensions have been cut, much of whatever burgeoning clout the nascent professional coaching union had, has diminished.
All of that creates a more static environment and makes it tougher for bright rising coaches and executives to get the chance to make that next step. And sometimes the only way to get them is by offering a drastic promotion all the way to the top, which is a gamble.
"It's become restrictive, and I'm not sure that it's really benefitting the owners," one executive said. "You can't say it's cut down on costs, because for the most part, the salaries keep going up. That's why in a year like this, I think you'll see a lot of rehashed coaches who were out of it, and it's also why you've seen so many young guys get a shot. That's why you'll see a secondary coach interviewing for a head coach, because you can't get him away as a coordinator.
"I don't think that's the best trend for our league. Nobody's being trained properly, and you're seeing younger and younger guys in those jobs, and they'll make less than some other guys, but the league is becoming less experienced because of it."
Pro Bowl roster reflections
Overall, I thought the Pro Bowl teams turned out pretty well this season. There were two position groups, however, that I thought were slighted.
The Bengals have had a marvelous season, rising to win a division title that I don't believe anyone predicted (at least no one I know). The defense (and running game) has led the way, without question, and the strength of that defense has been the secondary -- specifically, the corners. The fact that neither Leon Hall nor Jonathan Joseph made the team just ain't right. Champ Bailey has been awesome for a long time, but one of these two gets the nod over him in my book. They are the best corner tandem in the league and the backbone of that Bengals defense, holding up expertly even after sack demon Antwan Odom was lost for the season.
The other group that stood out to me for its omission was the Green Bay defensive line. This may be the most under-recognized group in the NFL. I know there are a lot of great nose tackles out there, but this unit switching to a 3-4 and anchoring the best defense in the NFL? Come on. Ryan Pickett is the truth at defensive tackle, and Cullen Jenkins is no joke, either. One of them has to be on this team.
Also, if it's me, I'm taking Vincent Jackson over Brandon Marshall as an AFC wide receiver. Also, I'm taking fullback Lousaka Polite over Le'Ron McClain as AFC fullback. This isn't like 2009 where McClain ran for 900-odd yards. His role diminished this season. I'm also not so sure Ray Lewis is still a Pro Bowl starter at this stage of his career. If anyone has earned a lifetime achievement nod, it's Ray-Ray, however. And I'm not seeing Jake Long as a starting tackle, either. That's a bit befuddling. I also might be taking Bart Scott or Jets teammate David Harris over DeMeco Ryans. I'm definitely not taking Mario Williams.
I thought the Dallas offensive line was over-represented (the Titans', conversely, was way under-represented), Bryant McKinnie being a starting tackle in the NFC shocked me, and, last but certainly not least, this was the year London Fletcher had to be on this team.
The Redskins defense played out of its mind for much of the season with no help at all from the offense, and Fletcher was the key without a doubt. Brian Orakpo had a great rookie season, but he was given a stripped down role. If you were going to put one Redskin on that Pro Bowl team, much less one 'Skins linebacker, it had to be Fletcher - had to be. And there is no one in the league it would have meant more to. Make Patrick Willis the starter, okay, as I wrote a few weeks back. But this was Fletcher's year to be on that team.
Big plays make the difference
This is a big-play league, little doubt about that. The more explosive you are on either side of the ball, the better your chances of winning.
The bottom 10 teams in the league in terms of 20-plus yard plays likely will not make the playoffs (OK, Denver still could, but otherwise you're looking at the Browns, Rams, Seahawks, Chiefs, Bills, Raiders, Lions, and Dolphins). It is also worth noting that the Patriots are tied with the Redskins for 22nd overall in big plays, with 48. Not what we expected from them, and an indication of why they took a chance on Joey Galloway. They'll have to find a big-play element with more regularity in the playoffs if they are to have a long run.
Also, another reason to like the Colts -- they have allowed just 30 plays of 20 yards or more all season, best in the NFL, and well below the league average of 54. (Safety Antoine Bethea is another guy who I'd put in the Pro Bowl, come to think of it).
Some in the media seemed intent on propagating the idea that Charlie Weis was going straight from leaving South Bend to calling plays for an NFL team the following Sunday, but that clearly hasn't been the case and never was going to be. However, he will be in demand as a coordinator and some sources close to the situation expect him to land with Scott Pioli, his former New England colleague, in Kansas City, with former New England quarterback Matt Cassel …
» Am I the only one who finds it odd that half of the 16 teams in the NFC have only two or fewer road wins? If you're looking for a reason why the 49ers (1-6 away from home) will fall just short of the playoffs and why the Bears (1-6 on the road) have had such an unexpectedly poor season, there it is …
» I don't have a great feeling about the Bengals as the playoffs fast approach. The offense seems so limited at this point, and I'm not sure they can shake out of that in January. The Bengals go three-and-out 27.5 percent of the time, which ranks 27th in the NFL. When you couple that with a weak vertical game you could have problems, especially should they face a team like Baltimore that is best in the NFL against the run (in terms of yards per carry) …
» The Panthers will spend a good part of this offseason thinking about what could have been. If you want to see why they fell from division champs to out of the playoffs, look at the turnovers. It's all in there (and a lot of it had to do with interception-prone starting quarterback Jake Delhomme). Consider this: 34 percent of the points allowed by Carolina this season came off turnovers, including a shocking 36 points scored against the offense. Had they been able to curb even some of that, you're looking at a nine win team. Over the last eight games, only Green Bay (241) and San Diego (246) have scored more points than the Panthers (240) …
» Take any side you want in this Brett Favre/Brad Childress saga, but there is no doubt that a few things are true. Favre has had an excellent statistical season, but that offense has slowed late in the year. He has helped get the best out of guys like Sidney Rice and Visanthe Shiancoe, and has played that position in a way no one else on that roster could ever hope to. The identity of the team -- and offense live -- which was built on power football, has changed -- period. Last year the Vikings ran the ball 52.9 percent of the time in the first half of games, second-most in the NFL (by looking at the first half we're taking garbage time, chasing the game, etc., out of the equation). This season, the Vikings run the ball 43.6 percent of the time in the first half, which is 13th-most in the NFL. That's a massive difference, folks, and explains the identity crisis going on right now. If the Vikings go on to have a great playoff run, then so be it. But if that offensive line continues to get worked in pass protection and if they're one and done in the playoffs, then besides selling a whole bunch of jerseys, I'm not sure what the tangible gains will be. Plus, they'll be looking at another bizarre offseason with everyone wondering what the future will be at quarterback there, and whether the 40-year-old gunslinger will be back …
» The Ravens have suffered heartbreaking losses all season long and have only themselves to blame. Mental mistakes and penalties have cost them time and time again, with dropped passed, personal fouls and boneheaded decisions taking points off the board and leading to another tough loss, this one to Pittsburgh. Baltimore's defense, long undisciplined at the most crucial times, is pulling off a triple crown of sorts. The Ravens by far lead the NFL in pass interference calls -- 13 for a whopping 261 yards (no other team has more than 9)-- they're tied for third with five illegal contact penalties, and they have the second-most roughing the passer calls (five, one fewer than the Titans). Their also tied for sixth in the NFL with eight personal fouls called against their defense. That will cost you repeatedly over 16 weeks.