We've already seen three head-coaching changes before the end of the season, which could either mean a sign of dark times ahead or a new trend in the NFL. The Philadelphia Eagles released Chip Kelly before Week 17 last year in order to conduct meetings with their players and get a head start on the search for a replacement. This year, the Rams, Bills and Jaguars all let their head coaches go before the end of the season to do the same.
Earlier this month, I took my last swing at a list of potential NFL head coaches who could fill job openings this offseason. Now, we will take a team-by-team look at the coaching carousel.
Buffalo Bills: The Bills fired Rex Ryan (and his twin brother, Rob) two days after Christmas, leaving open the possibility that offensive coordinator (and now interim head coach) Anthony Lynn could earn the job permanently. This is a unique job. As Lynn himself revealed in his Wednesday press conference, there are certain "business" factors and closed-door decisions that the head coach might not necessarily be privy to. However, there are only 32 of these jobs, and every coach is an eternal optimist. The next coach must also be a quarterback whisperer -- or at least capable of getting this defense back on track.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars cut ties with Gus Bradley on Dec. 18, signaling an end that many people were expecting. Bradley won just 14 games in four seasons and failed to capture the youthful energy that seems to be surging down in Jacksonville. In many ways, this is the most interesting job on the market. Rookie cornerback Jalen Ramsey is a budding star, and many coaches would sign up to work with talented youngsters like Dante Fowler Jr., Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and Malik Jackson. Of course, there are questions about the long-term viability of third-year QB Blake Bortles, who has taken a step backward this season. General manager Dave Caldwell said at a press conference last week that he was already receiving calls for the job -- that's a departure from four years ago, when Caldwell apparently had to cold-call potential head coaches.
Los Angeles Rams: The Rams separated with Jeff Fisher back on Dec. 12 after the head coach compiled a 31-45-1 record and zero playoff appearances. This is, without a doubt, the highest-profile job available, with Rams ownership already making waves. Jon Gruden, Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh have all publicly distanced themselves from the opening, while NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport has noted that a trade for someone like Panthers head coach Ron Rivera is entirely possible. This will not be an easy job. The Rams have a moldable -- but very young -- set of stars, high expectations and a new stadium set to open in 2019. Whoever takes the job will do so with a heavy weight on his shoulders.
Expected to be fired
San Francisco 49ers: Initially, it was hard to believe that the 49ers would fire two coaches after just one season (Jim Tomsula being the other) but, as NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported this weekend, San Francisco felt they were in a position where they had to shake things up. The 49ers have been stuck in the mud for the past few seasons while the rest of the division passed them by, which means sweeping changes not only at head coach but also at the general manager position. This all of a sudden becomes an interesting opening, especially for a candidate with defensive experience. The 49ers have some promising young prospects on their defensive line and secondary and could quickly turn the corner under the right head coach.
Ready to retire?
Denver Broncos: A year removed from guiding the Broncos to a Super Bowl title, coach Gary Kubiak is seriously considering retirement after Sunday's game, sources with knowledge of his thinking told Rapoport. Kubiak's health has been a concern for a while, though he is said to be eating better and feeling much better, which is why he hasn't made a firm decision on his future, Rapoport reported. If he steps away, expect Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph to get serious consideration. Had Kubiak not been hired by the Broncos, it likely would've been Joseph's job, Rapoport added. Kubiak, 55, missed a game against the Chargers earlier this season after being hospitalized for what was diagnosed as a complex migraine condition. He also suffered a mini-stroke and collapsed on the sideline during a game as the Houston Texans' coach in 2013.
On thin ice?
Chicago Bears: John Fox has nine wins in two seasons. While he is a highly regarded coach with a pair of Super Bowl appearances under his belt, perhaps the Bears will take this offseason of change as an opportunity to swap out their head coach as well as their quarterback. There are a lot of things to like about the Fox regime, including his ability to recruit free agents and build a professional-grade staff. Fox himself seems optimistic about his staff returning next season. He said Thursday the team has made "considerable improvement in many areas offensively" despite a lack of "continuity and consistency." Rapoport also reported Sunday that Fox and most of his staff are expected to remain with the team. However, we have seen owners becoming less and less patient in recent years when teams are trending downward.
Indianapolis Colts:Colts owner Jim Irsay told Rapoport earlier this month he did not expect to make any wholesale changes within the organization. Since that time, Indianapolis routed the Vikings and lost to the Raiders. For the second straight year, the Colts are not in playoff contention. Clearly, Irsay sees a window of time within which the team can be successful with quarterback Andrew Luck, and he appears comfortable with the direction in which the organization is heading. He also probably doesn't want to eat the remaining years on Pagano's contract, a four-year extension that was signed less than a year ago.
San Diego Chargers: The loss to Cleveland on Christmas Eve will be damning when Chargers ownership goes into the war room to evaluate the 2016 season. After a pair of 9-7 seasons to start his tenure, Mike McCoy has won just nine games combined over the past two campaigns. The Bolts finish up the season on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Rapoport reported Sunday that the team's brass is mulling over whether to keep McCoy for 2017, weighing all the factors he's been up against this season. With Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates in a closing window and a slew of young defensive talents on the roster, a change might make sense to shake up the AFC West.
What to watch out for
Arizona Cardinals: Bruce Arians has encountered some health issues in 2016, leading to reports suggesting he would mull retirement in the offseason. The 64-year-old downplayed that publicly and said he plans to coach in 2017 earlier this month. Should he change his mind, however, a playoff-ready roster would be open for new management.
Carolina Panthers: Ian Rapoport mentioned Panthers head coach Ron Rivera as a currently-employed head coach who could be targeted by the Rams. I think there would be coaches lining up to coach the Panthers' defensive line and work with GM Dave Gettleman, should a move go down. (Cam Newton requires the right kind of coach, but he is certainly enticing in a scheme that fits his unique talents.)
Cincinnati Bengals: Head coach Marvin Lewis said not to put any stock into talk about retirement and told SiriusXM NFL Radio on Thursday that he will be back in 2017. The 58-year-old has been the head coach of the Bengals since 2003 and has made seven playoff appearances. As many Bengals fans are aware, Lewis has yet to win a postseason game. That being said, he had four straight seasons with 10 or more wins heading into this disappointing 5-9-1 year that has been plagued with injuries. The team was also picked apart in free agency last offseason.
New Orleans Saints: Sean Payton and New Orleans seem destined to do this dance for a lifetime, but what if there is a situation that puts Saints ownership over the edge? Ian Rapoport reported that Payton is monitoring the Rams job with "sincere interest," even after signing a five-year contract extension with the Saints in March. Sometimes, a coach's message just needs to be heard by new ears to resonate again. Should the Saints deal their Super Bowl-winning head man, they would be on the market with Drew Brees as a very attractive chip to lure prospective coaching candidates.
New York Jets: Rapoport noted Sunday the Jets are not inclined to fire coach Todd Bowles despite the team getting blown out in a prime-time showdown against the Colts. Since Week 14, the Jets have been outscored 92-39, including a 38-point thrashing by the rival New England Patriots. This is a team in transition, and one that has had its share oflocker-room drama down the stretch. Could owner Woody Johnson change his mind after Sunday?