Black Monday delivered on the Drama
The final week of the NFL season is sometimes a snooze. This year, with so many games with serious playoff implications, the NFL decided to not have a Sunday night game. Honestly? I loved it. There was no chance a game would become worthless due to fallout from other games. So December 31, 2017 was one of the most insane days of football I’ve ever watched. The drama was high, I flipped back and forth between channels while my iPad live on the RedZone channel. I actively yelled when the Bengals shocked the Ravens out of the playoffs. The video of the Bills’ reaction to the Andy Dalton 4th and 12 touchdown is truly wonderful. Less than 12 hours later though, came the real news day. Black Monday.
Black Monday is the day where all the teams not going to the playoffs start to clean house. It is always filled with some of the craziest storylines of the year including: Who is getting fired? Who is retiring? Who is announcing they’re not re-signing with their team? The headlines come fast and frequently, with hot takes, inside scoops, and predictions for how the coaching carousel will shake out. Here are my top 5 NFL coaching storylines thus far.
1. Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia – Will they leave the Patriots?
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Every year this is a plotline. I won’t get into the Patriots prolonged period of success, but it can’t all be attributed to Brady and Belichick. McDaniels and Patricia have been fantastic for the last few years. Many coaches don’t adjust well, and instead force their scheme, regardless of results. These guys, though? They adjust better than anyone.
Look at Patricia’s work fixing what started as the NFL’s worst defense in almost every statistic. Despite New England giving up the 4th most yards in the NFL this year, they allowed the 5th least points. That’s an incredible statistic. And McDaniels? He’s led the league’s premier offense, has a couple of Super Bowl rings, and makes better halftime adjustments than anyone. Despite his rough tenure in Denver, he should be heavily targeted by teams.
As soon as Black Monday hit, both of them started getting brought up as potential Head Coaches. Both have said in the past that they’d only leave the Patriots if the fit was perfect. Here are some potential landing spots.
Detroit is a blue collar team whose reputation wants to be for playing smash mouth football. Unfortunately that hasn’t worked out in recent years. Patricia would be able to walk in and immediately improve the team. With the right Offensive Coordinator handling Matthew Stafford and the gargantuan investment Detroit made in him, Patricia would be set to work on the team’s biggest fault, the defense.
Patricia is the perfect person to walk into this position. That team is set up in a way that could have a great future with the right leadership. It would also reunite him with star rusher, Chandler Jones.
New York Giants
All signs point to this being a good match. They want someone with HC experience, who can game plan with a top tier quarterback. Despite the offense done to Eli Manning by subsequently fired Ben McAdoo, I think you’ll see Eli stay the starting QB for the boys in blue. The draft will be interesting when it comes to the Giants. Will we see the pickup for the heir to the throne? In the meantime, McDaniels could do a lot of great things with that offense providing they stay healthy.
Josh McDaniels really likes Jacoby Brissett. I also think he would really like Andrew Luck, should Luck ever be able to play again. This team needs a lot of work, and I don’t know if McDaniels would want to be the one to shoulder the burden. However, The skill position players that the Colts have are much better than advertised. If the Colts don’t draft another QB, then McDaniels knows he can win with Brissett.
I don’t actually see this happening. McDaniels was the HC for the Tim Tebow era in Denver, and it didn’t go so great. I don’t see him taking on another new quarterback with a lot of potential, but a lot of potential to screw him up. He’ll want to head to a team with a proven signal caller. There’s a lot of cap space in Chicago, however, and the offer to help mold a team in his exact image might be too enticing to ignore.
2. Bruce Arians’ Retirement, and where do the Cardinals look now?
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I wrote about this earlier this week in depth, so I won’t recap too much. However I think that the situation in Arizona is one of the most intriguing. With the retirement announcement of Bruce Arians and the subsequent retirement of Carson Palmer the next Head Coach will get to hand pick their quarterback. There is about to be a sizable market of veteran free agent quarterbacks. A proven game manager under center makes this team an instant contender. Then the team drafts their QB of the future and allows them to . My vote? Bring in Alex Smith when he and the Chiefs part ways this offseason.
The big question mark for this franchise? Will future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald decide to follow his two leaders and retire. I hope not, I love watching him play. If he can play at the level he produced this year, he’ll ve valuable to the team ongoing. Look for a Defensive Coordinator to take the reins here, and bring a top notch Offensive Coordinator on board.
3. Jack Del Rio out in Oakland, Gruden in?
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The firing of Jack Del Rio on Black Monday seems harsh, to me. Yes, the Oakland Raiders are the disappointment of the year (except, maybe the Giants), and yes, someone had to be held accountable, but was the season that bad? A 6 win season was far below what the one-time Super Bowl contenders deserved. Seeing a team this talented go 6-10 was hard. But also remember where they were when Del Rio arrived. They were bad. Really bad. Del Rio orchestrated a huge turnaround that garnered him Coach of the Year nods right and left.
The rumor mill is ownership is creating room for Jon Gruden to take over. That would be a very non-metaphorical slap in the face to Del Rio’s accomplishments. The team that gave this fanbase hope again getting kicked to the curb after slapping the fanbase with a move to Vegas. It’s not right. The big question will be who runs the offense under the new coach, because the OC for the Raiders for sure will not get another chance. Look for Del Rio to take over a team desperate for a coach who knows how to revitalize a team. I’m thinking Indianapolis or Chicago are looking really great to him right now. Let’s see if they call.
4. Jim Caldwell out in Detroit
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This wasn’t a surprise. The Lions think they can win super bowls, and that they’re only a couple key pieces away. Caldwell was neither inventive nor tough enough to build the Lions into a team that was better than average. As many people point out, you either want to be great or terrible when it comes to rebuilding a team because of draft positions. Caldwell’s teams living at 9-7 is not an ideal place to be in the NFL Draft. He also went 4-23 during his time against teams with above .500 records. That’s downright terrible when you want to be a contender. Caldwell will quickly find a new gig, but I don’t think we’ll see him get the Head Coaching reins somewhere. Look for him to become an Offensive Coordinator somewhere with a good system in place. Tampa Bay might be an interesting place to start.
The Detroit job is a very attractive one for potential Head Coaches. I’ll be interested to see if they go with a proven commodity or if they allow someone their first shot. With the success of Sean McVay in Los Angeles, I think we’ll some new younger names entering the mix for the first time. The next coach should either be a smash mouth defensive specialist, or a quarterbacks coach. John DeFillipo, the QB coach from the Eagles is my top choice for this position. He could do some scary things with a talent like Matthew Stafford.
5. Who on earth wants to go near the Indianapolis Colts
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I’m honestly shocked Pagano wasn’t fired sooner. The fact it took until Black Monday shows the respect the Front Office and ownership has for Pagano. The world learned he was going to be gone when he said so to the locker room, but the writing was on the wall for years. The inevitable was delayed when the team was taken over by Jim Caldwell during Pagano’s inspiring fight with cancer. Since then, however, the team has not performed in any way that could be called acceptable.
The Colts are saddled with contracts eating up cap space from underperforming players, and maybe the league’s worst offensive line. Pagano oversaw one of the most talented quarterbacks to come out of college in recent history have his shoulder destroyed by constant pounding. The Colts job should not be considered an attractive one, with or without Luck’s return from injury. It’s not without its upsides, though. Irsay, from what I can tell, is a fantastic owner to work for, and Jacoby Brissett has shown he can win. So who do I think will take this job? Here are some contenders:
Gregg Doyel for The Indy Star reports that this is already a done deal. Word on the street is that Chris Ballard, Colts GM, loves the Kansas City Special Teams Coordinator and wants him as a Head Coach. I love Special Teams-oriented Head Coaches. There are a lot of points left on the field because of Special Teams, and a good Head Coach will fight to get them back. Toub has overseen some fantastic units in KC, and I think would be a great fit here. The question though, is who does he bring along to run the Offense and Defense? Both sides of the ball need serious work, so I’m not sure if now is the time to focus on Special Teams. That feels like a hire when your depth chart is solidly in place.
Jack Del Rio
We talked about him above, but look at what he did with the disastrous raiders in just a couple of years. Last year we were talking about them as AFC contenders for the Super Bowl. It didn’t pan out, but just getting to that place in such a short time should perk the ears of all teams looking to become competitive. No one sees to be linking him to Indianapolis, but I think Ballard would be making a huge mistake if the Colts don’t at least interview Del Rio
The current Defensive Coordinator for the Carolina Panthers would be an interesting development. The Colts are sorely lacking on Defense and having a Head Coach with that as his focus would be a great thing for the organization. Wilks developed superstar Josh Norman, and once Norman left, he became less fantastic. If Wilks can get a couple of players like that for the Colts, the Defense could right the ship. Do we really think the Defense is in more need than the Offense though? To me the answer to that is Andrew Luck. If Luck is coming back, and will be healthy, and the Colts commit themselves to making an Offensive Line that actually works, then a Defensive Head Coach will be fine. I don’t think those will happen, though, so I think they’d be better off with a Offense-driven coaching change.
This is my favorite of the rumors. He’s the Offensive Coordinator for the Eagles and the proof is in the pudding there. Even with the injury to Carson Wentz, Reich was able to keep the Offense competitive under Foles. If Reich had a QB like Andrew Luck, I think he could get this offense back to where it was in 2014 in no time. He’s also never been a Head Coach before, and a team at rock bottom looking for an infusion of fresh blood could use a voice like that. Reich is definitely my vote for the Colts.
What I think stands in the way of McDaniels being a top HC candidate anywhere was his less than stellar time in Denver. Do I think he’s capable? Without question. Do I think the question of why wasn’t he able to accomplish with some fantastic talent deserves a second, third, and fourth look? Definitely. I think a team will want McDaniels, but he’s said many times that he doesn’t want to leave New England unless there’s a perfect fit. I don’t think that a rudderless team with major depth chart and cap issues is the place he wants to go.