Black Monday – which NFL teams will be looking for a new coach after Week 17?
Coaches are rarely given five or six years to build their system and to develop players to fit their schemes. Fans and owners want results and they don’t want to wait to see if it will work out. In most cases, teams are giving coaching staff roughly three years and if they are not going deep into the playoffs, most coaches are shown the door.
We don’t know for sure which coaches and general managers will be let go, but we do have an idea of just where each team stands in terms of salary cap space and most of their roster make up going into next year. The NFL has only 32 head coaching opportunities, but not all of them are made equal.
Some head coaches will inherit teams with young, talented quarterbacks and sizable salary cap space to make a significant splash in free agency. Other teams are saddled with an aging quarterback who takes up a considerable amount of salary cap space, leaving the organization unable to make roster moves.
Below are the rankings of the best possible coaching positions and projections for Black Monday. The 2016-2017 NFL Salary cap has not been officially set. For the sake of this exercise we have set the salary cap amount at $150 million dollars next season.
1) Indianapolis Colts
Salary Cap Space Available: $20.9 million
Dead Cap Space: $ 6 million
Pros: The Colts have a legitimate starting quarterback in Andrew Luck, who will most likely be a cornerstone player in the NFL for the next decade. On offense they have firepower in wideouts TY Hilton, Phillip Dorsett, and Donte Moncrief. The roster needs to infuse with younger, cheaper players. This is a club that will have to sign Luck to a long term deal, but that can wait until the 2017-2018 season. By cutting some players who are not living up to their contracts, the Colts can then sign a couple of offensive linemen, which should improve their abysmal rushing attack and help keep Andrew Luck upright for a full season.
Cons: A number of older players such as Frank Gore, Andre Johnson and Trent Cole are taking up significant cap space. Neither of these players are ones you can count on for the long term. They have six million in dead cap space going into next season, the third highest in the NFL. They have built their team through free agency and not through the draft. The Colts haven’t done a very good job of building and protecting Luck, they have taken just three offensive linemen over the past four years. In the past couple of seasons they went out and unwisely spent in free agency. By upgrading the offensive line, they can keep Luck standing upright and actually build a running game, something Indy hasn’t had since Edgerrin James was in the backfield.
2) Tennessee Titans
Salary Cap Space Available: $19.2 million
Dead Cap Space: $4.5 million
Pros: Similar to the Colts, the Titans can build an entire offense around their dynamic starting quarterback, Marcus Mariota. This is an offense filled with young, promising wideouts who need some time to grow and develop. It probably would be wise for whomever takes over to make an immediate plan to upgrade the offensive line.
On defense, the cornerstone player is Jurrell Casey, one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. He has nine sacks on the year and is constantly taking on double teams. Casey is signed through the 2018 season so he can be the focal point of their defense for the next couple of seasons. The defensive secondary is a solid unit with Jason McCourty and Michael Griffin overseeing the backend of the Titans’ defense that ranks 8th in passing defense in the NFL.
Cons: The Titans have $69 million or 55% of their spent budget for next season going to a defensive unit that currently ranks 27th overall in the NFL. That is a pretty dismal return on an investments. On offense, they need to establish some type of rushing attack. They currently rank 28th in rushing offense in the NFL. This is a team that will need to get their offensive line in order, Mariota can’t be the effective young playmaker if he is flat on his back every other play.
With a few more weapons on offense, the Titans can utilize the quick passing attack Mariota employed at Oregon which would also be beneficial to his development. The offense needs a balanced attack and right now they don’t have enough talent to compete against the top defenses in the NFL. The Titans averaged a sack once every 12.2 pass attempts.
3) Philadelphia Eagles
Salary Cap Space Available: $17.7 million
Dead Cap Space: $1.8 million
Pros: With the 5th oldest roster in the NFL, the Eagles have a veteran locker room that is filled with a number of quality players. The skilled position players are in place on offense to be successful with Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor at wide receiver and Zach Ertz and Brent Celek at tight end, the offense should be geared to score some points. This team dealt with a number of injuries and drops this season. If they can overcome the drops and ball security issues that plagued a few players, this should be a top-10 offense.
The defense is led by one of the most exciting and disruptive interior defensive tackles, Fletcher Cox. He is signed through the 2017 season and he will need to be extended. A player with Cox’s ability doesn’t come around very often and he offers a tremendous amount of flexibility to play in almost any defensive scheme.
Cons: The offensive line will need to be the focus in the next draft; the last offensive lineman selected in the draft was Lane Johnson and that was in 2013. Having a consistent line of young offensive linemen is always a good policy. It would be wise to infuse the unit with some young talent. Starting left tackle, Jason Peters, has shown some signs of wearing down and it would be smart to find his replacement.
The safety position, is an area that will need to be retooled. Malcom Jenkins is a quality player but how much longer can he sustain this level of production? Walter Thurmond is a free agent and Chris Maragos is a quality special team’s player, but not a long term answer as a starting safety in this league. At corner they have Byron Maxwell and current starter, Nolan Carroll, is a free agent so they most likely will have to fill his spot, possibly with rookie corner Eric Rowe or through free agency.
Ultimately this is a team that will have to decide if they want to roll with Sam Bradford as their starter for the long term or let him walk in free agency. Bradford mentioned that he was wanting to have some continuity with the coaching staff and system. If the Eagles can get Bradford for around $15 to $17 million a year, this would give them some flexibility to grab another couple of players and maintain some continuity on offense.
4) Detroit Lions
Salary Cap Space Available: $20.5 million
Dead Cap Space: $360 thousand
Pros: The offensive line has been an area of emphasis for the last couple of years with first round picks used on Riley Reiff (LT), Laken Tomlinson (OG), and mid round picks on starters Travis Swanson (OC) and Larry Warford (OG). These four make up, what I believe to be, the building blocks of this franchise.
They can cut Matt Stafford if they want, but after cutting him and taking the dead cap space and then finding a stop-gap player to fill in, say a Brian Hoyer, they would have spent close to what it cost them to keep Stafford on the roster. I think the best move would be to keep Stafford, see if you can get into the playoffs, build some credibility and trust with the fan base and management, but look for a long term replacement in the next two years. It will take some smart roster decisions and key non-headline free agent pickups to make this team a contender in year one.
Cons: The Lions currently have $74.8 million or 62 percent of their salary cap space spent on the offensive side of the ball for next season. Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson account for $46 million between the two of them. This is an awfully steep price to pay for two players who have yet to lead this team to a single playoff victory. Cutting either of them would be costly and would affect their ability to improve their roster in both the long and short term.
The Lions haven’t drafted a player since 2010 that has reached the Pro Bowl. The problem with this organization might not be the coaching, it could stem from the fact they don’t have good scouts. They have a handful of well-known players, but they lack the depth at a number of key positions, specifically in the defensive secondary and at the running back position. A new head coach won’t be able to make a lot of wholesale changes to the roster in year one.
5) New York Giants
Salary Cap Space Available: $36.7 million
Dead Cap Space: $1.3 million
Pros: You have a Super Bowl winning caliber quarterback signed for the long term, though at an average of roughly $22 million per season, it is a high value contract sitting on the Giants’ books. With Manning and Odell Beckham Jr., this teams has playmakers on the outside that they can build around. This team can’t depend on Victor Cruz regaining his old form, so they will have to look at upgrading the wide receiver options opposite of Beckham. Two first round draft picks have been used to upgrade the offensive line since 2013, with Justin Pugh and Ereck Flowers.
The Giants won’t be forced into giving starter Jason Pierre-Paul a long term contract. It is evident that his injured hand is limiting his ability to get after the quarterback. They can walk away from him after this season with no salary cap ramifications.
Cons: With terrible defensive play in the past couple of seasons, this is a unit that will need to be rebuilt from the ground up. The defensive secondary is an injury riddled unit that should be scrapped altogether. The same can be said with the Giants’ linebacking unit, starters Jonathan Casillas and Mark Herzlich are quality special teams players, but that is where they should stay.
One of the major issues with a head coaching change would be forcing Eli and the rest of the Giants’ offense to learn a new system, which would be their third system in three years. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo has implemented a West Coast style offense. It will take this team at least a season to adjust to a new system and terminology.
6) New Orleans Saints
Salary Cap Space Available: $-4.1 million
Dead Cap Space: $14.8 million
Pros: On offense, Brees along with the weapons of Brandin Cooks, Brandon Coleman, Marques Colston, and Mark Ingram give this unit enough firepower to be competitive in each game. Over the last couple of years, the Saints’ front office overspent in free agency on players such as C.J. Spiller, who have brought little production value to the table.
On defense, Cameron Jordan is a cornerstone type of talent and one of the best and most productive players in the NFL. Middle linebacker Stephone Anthony and outside linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha, are two rookies this season who have shown flashes of being quality long term starters this team can build around.
Cons: The Saints have spent a lot of money upgrading a secondary that hasn’t seen the results most expected with the 31st ranked pass defense and 32th ranked overall defense. This is a unit that will need to find a coach who can better match the players to fit a system versus a system that the players don’t fit into.
General Manager Mickey Loomis has done a terrible job of constructing this roster with eyes towards the future. He mortgages the present and future to pay for players whose best days were in the past. The Saints will have to cut at least ten players from the current roster to get under the salary cap ceiling by March. This roster will be filled with cheap, young and inexperienced players because the general manager didn’t have the foresight to plan for the future.
With two new starting defensive backs, a couple of offensive linemen, a backup running back and another tight end, this is a roster with more holes that need to be filled with little to no resources available to them. It really hurts this club’s ability to retain and develop younger talent with 10% of their salary cap going to players not on their roster. This is a franchise with an elite quarterback who is still capable of playing at a high level and they have squandered some of it away by being reckless with draft picks and contracts.
7) Miami Dolphins
Salary Cap Space Available: $-6.4 million
Dead Cap Space: $4.1 million
Pros: You have a cornerstone defensive tackle in Suh, a quality pass rusher in Cameron Wake along with a young secondary. On offense you have a stable offensive line, with the likes of Albert, Mike Pouncey, and Ja’Wuan James. Over the years, they have spent a number of high draft picks on the offensive line.
They went out and took DeVante Parker in last year’s draft, while injuries have slowed down his development this season. If he can develop into a top tier wideout, the Dolphins could be in a good position to take a leap forward.
The Dolphins should allocate some resources towards improving the left guard position, tight end position and the linebacking core. They can improve their cap situation by making a couple of roster cuts. They can cut Greg Jennings, Jordan Cameron and Dion Jordan and gain an additional $14.7 million in cap space to spend on more long term players that could make more of impact on this roster both in the long and short term.
Cons: The Dolphins currently have the least amount of cap space of any NFL team going into the 2016-2017 offseason. They have to get rid of $6.4 million in contracts just to get under the $150 million cap ceiling. This is another example of a team losing sight of the future to put their names in the headlines, they win during free agency but continue to lose out on the field. With such poor cap management just which screams of fiscal irresponsibility, Dolphin fans would be hard press to believe the front office can build winning roster.
The signing of Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Cameron this last offseason have the Dolphins behind the eight ball in their ability to revamp the roster. Both players are two of the highest paid players at their positions.
Whomever takes over the reins will have to work in developing Ryan Tannehill into a quality starting caliber NFL quarterback. This will be a tough test and one that I’m not sure is attainable. Tannehill has made some improvements in his short tenure as a starter, but he lacks the functional abilities to be a top tier quarterback in the NFL. The Dolphins would be wise to start looking towards grooming his successor by having a young quarterback sit, learn and watch the next season and take over the starting spot in 2017.
With a lot of money spent on defense, the Miami Dolphins finished with the 24th ranked overall defense in the NFL. With such a poor return on their investment, it makes you wonder if the Dolphins’ scouting department is capable of locating quality players in the late rounds or in undrafted free agency. The next coach will need to create a more advanced system of finding and developing young talent.