AROUND THE NFL

NFC NORTH

 

GREEN BAY

An offer from the Packers for Sunday’s game with the Bears:

 

You know it’s going to be cold when the locals in Green Bay are preparing for the chilly weather.

 

Ahead of Sunday’s Packers game against rival Chicago Bears, the forecast is currently calling for a high of 19 degrees in Green Bay for the noon central time kickoff.

 

To help thaw the chill, the Packers announced they will offer free hot chocolate and hot cider to fans during the game, with a limit of two per customer, via the team’s official website.

 

Of course, there will always be the select few who scoff at 19 degrees being cold. It is cold. Thirteen degrees colder than freezing, to be exact.

 

If you’re headed to the game, bundle up. Remember: layers are your friend.

 

NFC EAST

 

DALLAS

Todd Archer of ESPN.com with a lengthy look at who Jerry Jones might turn to if he replaces Jason Garrett.  It’s actually a good list for any of the prospective openings:

 

Whenever a NFL coach is hired, there is always an expiration date. For some, it doesn’t take very long to figure out. For others, it might take nine seasons.

 

Jason Garrett’s fate already seems determined as the Dallas Cowboys scuttle along with a 6-7 record. Yes, they are in first place in the NFC East, thanks to a tiebreaker over the Philadelphia Eagles, but they are in the midst of a second three-game losing streak entering Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox).

 

The Cowboys are trending in a direction that has many believing Garrett’s expiration date could be as soon as Dec. 30, the day after the regular season ends, or whenever a playoff appearance ends in something other than a spot in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 19 or Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2.

 

Dallas owner and general manager Jerry Jones likely has a list of potential coaches, but it isn’t something he is expected to share.

 

So, what will Jones see when he surveys the landscape for a coach to bring him an elusive Super Bowl title after a 24-year drought?

 

Wish list

For years, there has been a feeling New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton will return to coach the Cowboys. The timing has never really meshed, especially with Payton signing a five-year deal at the start of this season. But that wouldn’t necessarily preclude Jones from inquiring about Payton, who was a Cowboys assistant from 2003 through 2005 under Bill Parcells.

 

In 2002, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers sent two first-round picks, two second-round picks and $8 million to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Jon Gruden.

 

Everybody has a price, and Jones has said folks would not believe how much he would pay for another Super Bowl. In terms of draft capital, would the Gruden price suffice? Eleven months after Tampa Bay landed Gruden, the Bucs won Super Bowl XXXVII.

 

If not Payton, how about Mike Zimmer? He was a Cowboys assistant coach from 1994 through 2006. His deal with the Minnesota Vikings runs through 2020. The asking price might not be as high as Payton’s and the addition of Zimmer would allow Jones to keep the bulk of the offensive staff, which has helped quarterback Dak Prescott, remain intact because of Zimmer’s familiarity with the staff.

 

Second chances

In many cases, coaching searches are a game of musical chairs. Whenever the music ends, coaches swap one logo for another. Sometimes these moves can be viewed as uninspired because the coach failed in one spot. Other times, teams hit, and New England’s Bill Belichick is an obvious example.

 

From 2011 through 2019 with the Carolina Panthers, Ron Rivera had a 76-63-1 record. Garrett has a better regular-season record at 83-66, but Rivera has a Super Bowl appearance on his résumé (2015). In 2007, Rivera interviewed with Jones, so the Cowboys know him. He also has a defensive background that would allow the offense to be “Dak friendly.”

 

From 2006 through 2018, Mike McCarthy was coach of the Green Bay Packers, overseeing the quarterback transition from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers. He has a 125-77-2 record and made the playoffs in nine of his 13 seasons. He has a championship, winning Super Bowl XLV at AT&T Stadium. Things grew stale with Rodgers at the end of their run together, but McCarthy inflicted two painful playoff losses on the Cowboys in 2014 and 2016. The body of McCarthy’s work needs to be recognized more than the way it ended.

 

Perhaps Josh McDaniels should be in a third-chance category, but he never coached a game for the Indianapolis Colts, backing out of an agreement in 2018. His two-year run with Denver did not go well (11-17), but he has the Belichick seal of approval as the Patriots’ offensive coordinator. He has directed a unit that has shown the ability to adapt to any situation, although the struggles this season have been greater in part because of Rob Gronkowski’s retirement and the lack of a big-play threat at receiver. Is he a product of Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady’s success, or is he somebody who can win on his own?

 

The assistants

The pool of assistant coaches does not seem to be as inspiring as in past years. Last year, NFL teams seemed willing to hire anybody who shook hands with Rams coach Sean McVay. It has worked in Green Bay with Matt LaFleur. It has not worked as much in Cincinnati with Zac Taylor.

 

Kansas City offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy has worked his way up the coaching ladder and earned the respect of many across the league. Coming from the Andy Reid coaching tree also will help his candidacy.

 

Lamar Jackson’s success has made Baltimore Ravens coordinator Greg Roman a hot name. He also succeeded with Colin Kaepernick with the San Francisco 49ers. Given the pieces of the Cowboys’ offense, it is possible to picture Roman’s offense working with Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott and Amari Cooper.

 

New Orleans offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael has been with Payton from the beginning with the Saints and with quarterback Drew Brees going back to their time in San Diego. Dan Campbell has been Payton’s assistant head coach and tight ends coach since 2016. He has head-coaching experience, going 5-7 as the Miami Dolphins’ interim coach in 2015. He has interviewed for a number of jobs since and would bring a tough-guy demeanor. Having played for the Cowboys from 2003 through 2005, he has insider knowledge of the Jones operation.

 

Matt Eberflus was on Garrett’s original staff in 2011, serving as linebackers coach as the Cowboys kept their 3-4 scheme. In 2013, he remained on staff and became a Rod Marinelli disciple in the 4-3 scheme. In 2016-17, he was the passing game coordinator and calling defenses some of the time. He thought he would be working for McDaniels in Indianapolis, but he has done a solid job in two years as coach Frank Reich’s coordinator.

 

San Francisco’s rise to prominence will bring attention to its staff. While defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has plenty of talent to work with, he has gotten it to work at a high level, as the 49ers lead the NFC West at 11-2.

 

College coaches

However you want to credit the Cowboys’ three Super Bowl wins of the 1990s, they all came with a college coach running the show in Jimmy Johnson and Barry Switzer. Given how the college game has trickled up to the NFL, especially offensively, would Jones go that route?

 

Lincoln Riley’s name has been attached to the Cowboys for the past couple of years in part because of how impressed executive vice president Stephen Jones was when Riley recruited his son, John Stephen, to Oklahoma. For years, many assumed Bob Stoops would make the trek from Oklahoma to Dallas, but he never did, except for his impending run as coach of the XFL’s Dallas Renegades. Riley’s name figures to continue that connection, and he is 3-0 at AT&T Stadium.

 

Riley’s Sooners beat Baylor in last weekend’s Big XII title game in Arlington, Texas, but Baylor coach Matt Rhule earned major credit for how he has rebuilt a program that went 1-11 two years ago. The New York Jets likely regret passing on Rhule now. Rhule has one year of NFL experience (2012 as an assistant offensive line coach with the New York Giants), but he has successfully built two programs in Temple and Baylor.

 

Earlier this season, Urban Meyer said he would be interested in the Cowboys job if it came open. He has had success at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State. He coached Elliott at Ohio State and knows the pressure of winning in a high-profile situation. He won a College Football Playoff National Championship at AT&T Stadium.

 

Can college coaches succeed in the NFL? It worked for Johnson. Pete Carroll had NFL experience before coaching an ultra-successful run at Southern Cal, and then he returned to the league. How did former Oregon coach Chip Kelly work out in Philadelphia? Will former Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury succeed in Arizona?

 

The jump is big no matter the success a coach has had at the college level.

 

The wild cards

This is Jerry Jones we are talking about, so anything is possible. Who saw Switzer coming? Who saw Parcells working with Jones?

 

Mike Shanahan last worked in the NFL in 2013 for the Washington Redskins. With Robert Griffin III in 2012, things looked promising, then the quarterback got hurt and Shanahan was gone one year later. He won two Super Bowls in Denver.

 

Who knows if Shanahan would have interest in returning to the NFL? He turns 68 in August and Parcells was 62 when he came to Dallas.

 

How about someone without NFL coaching experience? Jason Witten. Eyes might roll, but the Cowboys tight end has long wanted to coach and his name was linked to his alma mater, Tennessee, two years ago.

 

Witten, 37, returned to the Cowboys following a one-year stint as an analyst for ESPN’s Monday Night Football. He knows the Cowboys’ roster and is inside the operation. It has not been done in the NFL, but Steve Kerr did not have coaching experience before he took over the Golden State Warriors and Aaron Boone did not have managerial experience before he took over the New York Yankees.

 

Maybe he should be in the college coaches’ category, but Jim Harbaugh has been to a Super Bowl even if he has yet to beat Ohio State while at Michigan. He had a 44-19-1 record from 2011 to 2014 with the San Francisco 49ers and went to the playoffs in three of his four years. Would he work with the Cowboys’ structure? Does he want to get back to the NFL? The allure of the “big room” drew Parcells to Dallas.

 

 

NEW YORK GIANTS

More ELI this week.  Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com:

 

New York Giants rookie quarterback Daniel Jones is not expected to play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, according to a source. Eli Manning will take his place and make at least one more home start.

 

Jones returned to practice this week in a limited capacity, but needs more time with the high ankle sprain he suffered two weeks ago in a loss to the Green Bay Packers. Coach Pat Shurmur said at the time the injury was similar to what running back Saquon Barkley dealt with earlier this season. Barkley missed three games and returned after the bye week.

 

Manning, who was benched for Jones after Week 2, will make his second straight start. He went 15-of-30 for 203 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 23-17 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night.

 

With Manning on the final year of his contract and admittedly unsure about his future, this could be his final home start with the Giants. He was the team’s starter for the better part of 15 seasons, and won a pair of Super Bowl MVPs during that time.

 

The Giants (2-11) are looking to snap a nine-game skid on Sunday.

 

Jones was in a walking boot until Monday. He said earlier this week he was feeling “good” but still “wouldn’t say it’s all the way there.”

 

The Giants were happy with his progress.

 

“He’s getting better,” Shurmur said prior to Thursday’s practice.

 

Jones has started 10 games during his rookie season. The Giants are 2-8 in those contests. He has flashed while completing 61.6% of his passes with 18 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions.

 

The Giants are at Washington next week, then finish at home with the Eagles in a game they would be expected to do their utmost to win to deny their rivals a division title.

 

Unmentioned by Raanan, is the discussion of his career record.  This from ProFootballTalk.com earlier this week.

 

He’s now 8-27 in his past 35 games, dating back to a playoff loss to the Packers in January 2017. He also fell below .500 for his career in the regular season (116-117), making you almost hope he gets a chance to play one more to bring the universe back into balance.

 

“I thought he battled,” Giants coach Pat Shurmur said. “He did a lot of good things.”

 

Shurmur wouldn’t commit to any future starts, though Jones’ high ankle sprain suggests that his absence might last more than a week. They host the Dolphins Sunday.

– – –

The Giants have parted ways with CB JANORIS JENKINS after a slur on Twitter. NFL.com:

 

The New York Giants are done with Janoris Jenkins.

 

The team announced Friday they have waived the cornerback.

 

The move comes after Jenkins called a fan on Twitter a slur earlier this week, then refused to apologize for it on Thursday.

 

“This was an organizational decision,” coach Pat Shurmur said in a statement. “From ownership to management to our football operations, we felt it was in the best interests of the franchise and the player. Obviously, what happened this week, and the refusal to acknowledge the inappropriate and offensive language, was the determining factor.”

 

The eight-year pro will go on waivers.

 

@TomPelissero

Any team claiming former #Giants CB Janoris Jenkins would be responsible for the prorated portion of his $10.15 million salary for 2019. He’s due $11.25M in the last year of his deal in 2020, including a $1M roster bonus in March, none of it guaranteed.

Jenkins responded to the news of getting cut by Tweeting “Best news ever.. Thank you.”

 

The 31-year-old corner has been a thorn in the organization’s side for much of the season, including blaming the pass rush for the defense’s poor play early in the season and later complaining about not traveling with top receivers.

 

 

PHILADELPHIA

The Eagles will still be without RB JORDAN HOWARD as they play in Washington on Sunday.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

The wait for running back Jordan Howard‘s return to the Eagles lineup is set to extend at least one more week.

 

Howard has missed the last four games with a shoulder injury and head coach Doug Pederson said at his Friday press conference that Howard is still waiting to be cleared for contact. While that could change in the next 48 hours, it seems more likely that Howard will miss his fifth game when the Eagles play in Washington.

 

Pederson said that there’s still hope that Howard will be able to return soon and getting him back in action wouldn’t hurt as the Eagles try to slide past the Cowboys in the NFC East.

 

Miles Sanders has been the lead back in Howard’s absence with Boston Scott stepping up in a big way in last Monday’s win over the Giants. Scott caught six passes for 69 yards and ran 10 times for 59 yards and a touchdown in the win.

 

NFC WEST

 

ARIZONA

Once the belle of the ball in Arizona, RB DAVID JOHNSON is now a wallflower behind RB KENYAN DRAKE.  With the team losing, the former Pro Bowler is chafing.  Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com:

 

Cardinals running back David Johnson said this week that he’s “obviously” not happy about the fact he’s playing a diminished role on offense this season.

 

Johnson has seven carries and four catches over the last two games and he hasn’t played more than half the team’s offensive snaps since Week Six of the season. Given that change in status, some may be wondering what the offseason has in store for Johnson.

 

Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim fielded that question on Arizona Sports 98.7 on Friday and said that Johnson will be one of many players up for evaluation once the season comes to an end.

 

“Those are the kind of conversations that will certainly be held internally,” Keim said. “I’m not going to have them on the radio. I will say this: We’ll take a deep dive into this roster and take a look at every guy. Not only their contract situation but as I said earlier, identifying the core of players moving forward and making sure we can build around them.”

 

The contract situation is going to be a significant piece to any Johnson plans. The Cardinals would have over $16 million in dead money under the cap if they cut him without a post-June 1 designation and using that designation wouldn’t make things look much better. Trading Johnson would offer more relief, but it’s unclear other teams will be clamoring to pay Johnson’s $10.2 million base salary in 2020.

– – –

Is this the last game in Glendale for WR LARRY FITZGERALD?  Kevin Patra of NFL.com:

 

For 17 years, Larry Fitzgerald has called Arizona home. Could Sunday’s matchup with the Cleveland Browns mark the final home game in the Hall of Fame career for the Cardinals receiver?

 

“You never know,” Fitzgerald replied Thursday, via the team’s official website. “You never know. I don’t give it much thought. I told you before, I stay in the moment, man. The career will end. When it ends, it ends.”

 

If it ends, it should only be a five-year wait before Fitzgerald slips on a gold jacket.

 

The 11-time Pro Bowler understands there will be questions about his future until he hangs up the well-worn gloves for good.

 

“I guess it’s inevitable when you’re as old as I am,” Fitzgerald said.

 

The Cardinals final home game of the 2019 season could give fans a final chance to say goodbye to the living legend if it is indeed the end. But the team will hold out hope Fitzgerald might try to make it 18 seasons, with Kliff Kingsbury saying he intends to attempt to persuade the wideout to return after the season.

 

So long as Fitzgerald, who has played on a series of one-year deals, doesn’t say he’s made a decision one way or the other, questions will persist.

 

For the 36-year-old, he said he’s going to take time to weigh his off-field work with his on-field dedication.

 

“I’m weighing what I’m doing on the field and what’s required to be great for what you do on the field,” Fitzgerald said. “(That work) kind of hurts you from going to do what you need to do to prepare yourself (for after football), so there is a delicate balance.”

 

AFC WEST

 

LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

So Troy Aikman has said he would like to follow John Lynch into an NFL front office from the broadcast booth, but that it won’t be with the Jones family and the Cowboys.

 

So what team might make sense?

 

We’re looking at you, Chargers.

 

The Bolts head into SoFi Stadium next year as even less than second-fiddle to the Rams.  They have no fans, they have no identity, they have a middling roster with a rapidly aging quarterback whose time may have come.

 

We saw someone suggest Cam Newton would sell tickets, but we frankly doubt that.

 

We are not even saying that Aikman would definitely immediately sell tickets.

 

But as a Hall of Fame QB with Southern California ties, he would give the Chargers an immediate identity.

 

Like Lynch did in San Francisco, we think he would resolutely establish a culture, a structure and a purpose.

 

And then, with the right hires, he might create a winner and sell some tickets. 

 

Hiring Aikman is as good as the Chargers could do in the short run (although Peyton Manning would be a similar hire).  And with 19 seasons of literally networking with FOX, he has a vast knowledge of NFL front office and coaching personnel.

 

AFC NORTH

 

BALTIMORE

This from QB TOM BRADY as he watched QB LAMAR JACKSON set the QB season rushing record on Thursday night.  NESN.com:

 

Lamar Jackson has taken the NFL by storm, but Tom Brady still has ways to beat him. Well, sort of. The New England Patriots quarterback shared a hysterical proposition on Twitter during Week 15’s “Thursday Night Football” matchup between the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens. I

 

“Me vs Lamar, 40 Yard Dash on natural grass but he has to wear rollerblades. Who’s buying the PPV?” Brady wrote.

 

It might be the only way Brady could beat Jackson in a 40-yard dash. “Me vs Lamar, 40 Yard Dash on natural grass but he has to wear rollerblades. Who’s buying the PPV?” Brady wrote. Even then, we’re not so sure Brady would win. Of course, Jackson and the Ravens handed Brady and the Patriots their first loss earlier this season, but the two sides currently hold the top two seeds in the AFC. Time will tell if they meet down the road.

– – –

Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com declares the Ravens to be the AFC’s prime attraction in 2020 with Jim Nantz likely to be able to rent a place for the season:

 

The Ravens have taken the NFL by storm this year, led by the uncanny skills of quarterback Lamar Jackson. As the NFL draws up its plans for 2020, the Ravens and Jackson will surely be in the center of the league’s radar screen.

 

The Ravens undoubtedly will get the maximum number of prime-time games, given that even their blowout wins manage to hold an audience, as fans wait to see what Jackson will do next. They’ll also become a staple of the 4:25 p.m. ET slot, gathering millions for the late-afternoon time slot whenever their games are played then.

 

Beyond the usual six games against AFC North rivals (Browns, Steelers, Bengals), the Ravens will host the Cowboys, Chiefs, Giants, Titans, and Jaguars. Baltimore will face the Patriots (if they win the AFC East), Eagles, Colts, Texans, and Washington on the road.

 

So get ready for the schedule release in April, and get ready for plenty of Ravens games in high-profile time slots next year, no matter what happens to them over the balance of 2019.

 

We can only hope that if the Ravens win the SB that the Thursday night opener is Cowboys at Baltimore, so we don’t get another Dallas-Giants Week 1 tilt.

 

 

CLEVELAND

Josina Anderson of ESPN.com gets the scoop on WR ODELL BECKHAM’s health:

 

Amid reports that Odell Beckham Jr. likely needs offseason surgery, the Cleveland Browns wide receiver told ESPN’s Josina Anderson that no decision has been made on how to deal with an ongoing injury.

 

“There is no decision on surgery yet,” Beckham told Anderson via text message Sunday.

 

A Browns source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler that the team believes surgery is a strong option for Beckham in the offseason. NFL Network first reported on Beckham’s potential upcoming procedure, saying it was for a sports hernia.

 

Beckham told Anderson that he has a “hernia-area injury.”

 

The 27-year-old Beckham has been on the injury report throughout the 2019 season for hip and groin injuries and has regularly been a limited practice participant since the second week of training camp. That includes this week leading up to Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, although he has no game designation, indicating that he will play.

 

 

PITTSBURGH

With the Bills coming to town, the Steelers will be without WR JU-JU SMITH-SCHUSTER.  Brooke Pryor of ESPN.com:

 

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is not expected to play Sunday night against the Buffalo Bills after he aggravated his knee injury during practice on Thursday, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

 

Smith-Schuster returned to practice Wednesday as a full participant, but he left early on Thursday and was listed as a limited participant in the team’s official injury report.

 

On Thursday, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was still optimistic about Smith-Schuster’s return, adding that the third-year receiver was eager to get back on the field.

 

“He was wanting to get back last week,” Fichtner said. “You know, injuries. He’s got all the enthusiasm and energy and effort and want to. You know, sometimes injuries take their own time. You’ve just got to keep working through it.”

 

Smith-Schuster has missed the past three games with the knee injury and had been eyeing a return Sunday night. He only returned to running in a straight line on Dec. 4.

 

Smith-Schuster was injured Nov. 14 against the Cleveland Browns. He hurt his knee and suffered a concussion on the same play.

 

Running back James Conner was injured in the same game. He has an injury to the AC joint in his shoulder, but was a full participant in practice on Wednesday and Thursday.

 

In the absence of Smith-Schuster and Conner, the Steelers turned to a committee of offensive skill players to fill their roles. Wide receivers Diontae Johnson and James Washington stepped up in the past two weeks, and the Steelers deployed four different running backs last week against the Arizona Cardinals.

 

The Steelers (8-5) are on a three-game win streak without Conner and Smith-Schuster, but coach Mike Tomlin was blunt and succinct during his Tuesday news conference when asked how much the offense needed the pair of playmakers.

 

“A lot,” he said.

 

AFC EAST

 

NEW ENGLAND

Keep an eye on WR N’KEAL HARRY as the Patriots gear up for the postseason.  Mike Reiss of ESPN.com:

 

The big-picture agenda for the New England Patriots over the final three games of the regular season is clear-cut: Win games, play better football and enter the playoffs on a high note similar to last season.

 

Within that comes a question of note: How much can wide receiver N’Keal Harry, the first-round draft choice from Arizona State, help contribute to those goals?

 

The Patriots’ offense needs a spark, as the team hasn’t hit the 30-point mark in six consecutive games. If the Patriots (10-3) are sub-30 again Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m. ET, CBS), it will match the longest streak in the coach Bill Belichick/quarterback Tom Brady era (2005, 2002).

 

Harry played two snaps in the team’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, but his second snap might have sparked the possibility for bigger things ahead. The play, a 15-yard touchdown run that was incorrectly ruled a 12-yard run by the officiating crew, was described by Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as a “great individual effort.”

 

Harry needed that play, because his effort on a slant route the week before against the Houston Texans — when cornerback Bradley Roby undercut him to intercept a Brady pass that changed the momentum of the game — was not as well-received.

 

So it stood out this week when McDaniels said: “I need to do a better job of trying to find a way to get him the ball and get him involved, so that he can do some of those things and do more of them.”

 

 

THIS AND THAT

 

 

RANKING THE COACHING JOBS

Are the Cowboys the best landing spot for a coach?  That’s what Bill Barnwell says as he looks at 9 prospective openings:

 

With just three weeks of games in the NFL regular season left to go, we’re now 18 days away from the Monday when teams traditionally fire their head coaches and officially enter the market for new leaders. Two teams have already beaten their colleagues to the punch in this regard, with Washington firing Jay Gruden and Carolina sacking Ron Rivera.

 

More will follow. Last year, eight teams appointed new coaches during the offseason. A similar number would hardly be surprising this time around. With that in mind, if you’re a coach who might be in line to take over an NFL team, I’ve prepared a cheat sheet. As I do every year, I’m going to rank the various NFL jobs that might come available this offseason from least desirable to most compelling. I don’t expect all of these coaches to get fired, and I’m not rooting for anyone to lose their job, but I wouldn’t be shocked if any of these organizations decided to change coaches.

 

Of the nine teams I found as potential candidates, one was an easy choice as the least desirable opportunity. Let’s start with the most depressing team in the league:

 

9. Washington

Biggest strength: The checks clear

Biggest weakness: Ownership

 

The Knicks of the NFL similarly seem to set up their own coaches for failure. Jay Gruden’s six-year tenure with the club ended in October after an 0-5 start amid reports that Gruden didn’t want to use a first-round pick on quarterback Dwayne Haskins. The organization has shed talent both on the field (Kirk Cousins) and off (Sean McVay, Scot McCloughan) in recent years in embarrassing fashion and spent much of 2019 playing its home games in front of a half-empty stadium.

 

Please don’t take that as criticism of Washington fans. They deserve better after 20 disastrous years under Daniel Snyder’s ownership, which has included more head coaches (nine) than winning seasons (five). Snyder’s charges haven’t won a playoff game since 2005. If the organization can’t convince fans to show up, how is it going to attract any coach who has the option to pursue other opportunities?

 

Sadly, there is little on the roster to be excited about. The team’s best player, left tackle Trent Williams, hasn’t played all season after demanding a trade. Star guard Brandon Scherff is a free agent. Scherff and All-Underrated team member Matt Ioannidis are the only players who remain on the roster from the 2015 and 2016 drafts, as picks such as Josh Doctson and Su’a Cravens failed to make an impact and are out of football.

 

Washington’s largest cap hit in 2020 belongs to veteran quarterback Alex Smith, whose $16 million base salary is guaranteed for injury. The organization can’t be blamed for what happened to Smith, whose NFL future remains uncertain after he suffered a broken leg in 2018, but there’s nothing it can do to push Smith’s salary off its cap. Washington will owe $10.8 million in dead money when it moves on from Smith after the 2020 campaign.

 

The organization is likely to move on from several other highly paid veterans, including cornerback Josh Norman and tight end Jordan Reed, whose departures would free up a combined $21 million in cap space. Ryan Kerrigan will be in the final year of his deal, and while he’s still a valuable edge rusher, the team isn’t anywhere close to contending with the 31-year-old on its roster. The prudent thing would be to explore the trade market for Williams and Kerrigan, bring back Scherff and try to start a youth movement. You can guess what I think Washington will do.

 

There is some young talent here, although it’s not comparable to most of the other franchises on this list. The 2019 rookie class has been promising, with third-round wideout Terry McLaurin looking like a superstar in the making. Edge rusher Montez Sweat has flashed potential at times. Defensive linemen Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen and defensive backs Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau are worthwhile contributors on rookie deals. Landon Collins might be overpaid, but he’s a talented safety and a leader on defense.

 

The big question is what potential coaches think of Haskins, who has unsurprisingly struggled as a rookie. There was little reason to expect him to succeed this early given the issues along the offensive line and his inexperience at the position. This season shouldn’t realistically mean much in terms of evaluating him; if you liked him coming out of school, you’re going to be able to make excuses for why he didn’t succeed, and if you didn’t like him as a prospect, well, you can point to the 2019 film. Coaching candidates who want a blank slate or an established option at quarterback will look elsewhere.

 

If there’s any way Snyder can attract a desirable candidate, it would be by offering the sort of personnel control other teams aren’t willing to give to the vast majority of coaches in 2019, even if that means moving on from team president Bruce Allen, the public face of the franchise. Of course, coaches don’t typically get personnel control for a reason. Coaching is hard enough, and for every Bill Belichick who can succeed while juggling both jobs, you’ll run into a Bill O’Brien in Houston or a Mike Holmgren in Cleveland. Mike Shanahan reportedly had personnel control during his time in Washington, although it’s fair to wonder how much Snyder influenced the day-to-day decision-making in football operations.

 

The dream candidate in some ways, of course, would be Urban Meyer. The former Ohio State coach had glowing things to say about his former quarterback this summer after Washington drafted Haskins, though that’s hardly a surprise. Meyer retired from coaching last December for health reasons, although he gave the same reason for moving on from Florida in December 2010 and was named Ohio State coach less than a year later.

 

Meyer has never coached at the NFL level, but the 55-year-old expressed interest in the Cowboys job in October. We’ll get to them in a bit. Unless he is desperate to work with Haskins, it’s more likely that Washington will turn over the job to someone who doesn’t have head-coaching options elsewhere. One plausible candidate is 34-year-old offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, who has been in the building since 2017. Years after letting McVay leave, Snyder could try to avoid making the same mistake again.

 

8. New York Giants

Biggest strength: Market

Biggest weakness: Lack of talent

 

The NFC East is a fun place, huh? I’d rank the 2-11 Giants narrowly ahead of their 3-10 divisional rivals in Washington, if only because ownership hasn’t directly undercut or sold out the coaching staff as frequently as Snyder has over the past 20 years. The Giants have generally been a patient organization to a fault, although those days might have ended once Tom Coughlin left town. If Pat Shurmur is fired after two seasons in charge, the Giants will search for their third non-interim head coach in five years. Before Shurmur and Ben McAdoo, the only Giants coach since 1931 to be fired after just two seasons in charge was Ray Handley.

 

The bigger question might be whether general manager Dave Gettleman follows Shurmur out the door. Gettleman’s two-year run in charge of the Giants has been disastrous, and while the former Panthers GM inherited a roster bereft of young talent, his moves have done little to shore things up. His controversial decision to draft running back Saquon Barkley with the second overall pick has not aged well; as talented as Barkley clearly is, he hasn’t been able to single-handedly build a running game, which is what he needed to do to justify being selected over the likes of quarterback Sam Darnold and guard Quenton Nelson, let alone the best runner in his class, Lamar Jackson. Other 2018 picks such as guard Will Hernandez and outside linebacker Lorenzo Carter don’t appear to be difference-makers after two seasons.

 

The jury is still out Gettleman’s two draft classes, but 2019 first-rounder DeAndre Baker has been one of the worst corners — and starters — in football so far. Gettleman’s best selection so far, adjusting for draft position, has likely been fifth-round pick Darius Slayton. The problem, of course, is that Slayton has taken the spot in the lineup that previously belonged to franchise icon Odell Beckham Jr. While Beckham has had an underwhelming season in Cleveland, retaining him would have given rookie quarterback Daniel Jones a legitimate No. 1 receiver.

 

Jones’ first season has been inconsistent.

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Even if you think it’s too early to evaluate the draft picks, Gettleman’s decisions with veterans have gone horribly. He made former Patriots left tackle Nate Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in league history in the spring of 2018, but Solder has allowed 17.5 sacks, per Stats LCC data, over the ensuing two seasons. Gettleman followed by signing guard Patrick Omameh to a three-year, $15.5 million deal, only to cut Omameh after seven games. Adding 31-year-old receiver Golden Tate made little sense for a rebuilding team, as did bizarre trades for the likes of linebacker Alec Ogletree and defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Gettleman’s plan to build around running the football and “hog mollies” seemed antiquated, but the Ravens have built their offensive philosophy around that model and have the league’s best offense. The problem is that the players Gettleman has acquired to fill out his plan aren’t good enough to pull it off.

 

As a result, I’m not sure who the Giants should even consider targeting to rebuild their rebuild. If they don’t fire Gettleman, they’ll end up with a mismatched general manager and coach who are incentivized to do different things by their relative job security, the same issue that plagued the Jets for years. Most teams would target a quarterback guru to try to work with Jones as he enters Year 2, but the Giants would be firing an offense-minded coach in Shurmur and have one of the league’s worst defenses.

 

When I asked ESPN Giants reporter Jordan Raanan whom he would hire, the name he brought up was Baylor coach Matt Rhule. The 44-year-old was once the Giants’ assistant offensive line coach and turned down an opportunity to take the Jets job last year when he wasn’t allowed to pick his own offensive coordinator. Rhule understandably wants to build an organization in his own image. Can he — or anybody with his level of credibility — do that with Gettleman in the building?

 

7. New York Jets

Biggest strength: Promising quarterback

Biggest weakness: Lack of talent

 

Speaking of those crosstown rivals, Jets ownership has insisted it won’t fire Adam Gase after one season in charge. Given that this is the same organization that let general manager Mike Maccagnan spend millions in free agency and run the 2019 draft before firing him in May, you’ll forgive me if I take what they say publicly with a grain of salt.

 

With that being said, the Jets’ late-season ascension to mediocrity against a breathtakingly easy schedule makes it more likely that Gase will get another year in charge.

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This job is less enticing than it was a year ago, when quarterback Sam Darnold was coming off a hot stretch in December and the Jets had more than $100 million in cap space. Cap room won’t be hard to come by, given that they are projected with more than $66 million, but after making big signings in each of the past two offseasons, is ownership likely to endorse another spending spree in 2020?

 

Many of those moves have turned out disastrously

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I haven’t even covered all the scandals and bizarre things that have happened to the Jets in 2019. Darnold was sidelined by mono. Guard Kelechi Osemele publicly argued with the team when he wanted to get surgery on an ailing shoulder, with the Jets eventually releasing the former All-Pro. With all that being said, winning — even over similarly terrible teams — can be a cure-all. Unless the Jets are catastrophically bad in their season-ending run against the Ravens, Steelers and Bills, I would expect Gase to be back in 2019.

 

6. Jacksonville Jaguars

Biggest strength: Draft capital

Biggest weakness: Missing quarterback

 

It’s staggering to think that the Jaguars are less than two years removed from leading the Patriots by 10 points in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship Game.

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I’m not fond of the idea that a team has quit on a coach. Too often, it’s a term fans or media members use to explain away a bad day or a rough patch. That might be the case here, but the Jaguars have been totally noncompetitive over the past five weeks.

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Occam’s razor would suggest that the Jaguars are struggling because they aren’t talented enough to win games. While the 2017 season made it seem like they were on the verge of breaking through, what has happened since has been telling. Dave Caldwell is now in his seventh year as general manager. Just three players remain on the roster from his first three drafts: wide receiver Marqise Lee (who will likely be released after the season), center Brandon Linder and guard A.J. Cann. Star linebacker Telvin Smith was among that group before unexpectedly leaving football this offseason.

 

Likewise, despite picking at the top of the draft for most of his tenure, Caldwell’s top selections haven’t formed a core. First overall pick Luke Joeckel is out of football. Bortles, foolishly propped up for years and signed to an ill-advised extension, is now a backup with the Rams. Edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. and Ramsey have joined him via trade. Running back Leonard Fournette, the No. 4 overall pick in 2017, has had his best season as a pro, but he hasn’t been consistently effective. Defensive tackle Taven Bryan was drafted at the bottom of the first round in 2018, and rookie Josh Allen looks to be a special edge rusher, but that group includes five players taken with one of the first five picks of their respective drafts. Ramsey is the only one who lived up to pre-draft expectations.

 

The good news for the Jags is that there’s still some talent left on the roster. In addition to Allen, 2018 second-rounder DJ Chark broke through as a star wideout this season. The strength of the team has been along the defensive line, but Calais Campbell is entering the final year of his deal, while Yannick Ngakoue is a free agent. The Jags can keep around Ngakoue on the franchise tag, but they are penciled to have only about $6 million in cap space in 2020 before addressing the Ngakoue issue. It’s inevitable that the Jaguars will have to cut guys such as Lee and linebacker Jake Ryan to create cap space.

 

What the Jags can’t do, though, is move on from Nick Foles. As I mentioned last week, the Jaguars still have more than $20 million in guarantees due to their benched quarterback. Jacksonville will either have to eat that money over the next two years or trade a draft pick to convince some friendly team to take on his deal.

 

Fortunately, after trading away Ramsey, the Jags have a few draft picks to use. Jacksonville has an extra first-round pick in the 2020 and 2021 drafts courtesy of the Rams, and while those picks are likely to fall somewhere in the 20s, four first-round picks over the next two years could make this job appealing on their own. Jacksonville should be able to move up for one of the non-Joe Burrow quarterbacks in the 2020 class if it wants to move ahead of the Dolphins at No. 4.

 

It’s unclear who will be making those picks. Caldwell has ceded power in recent years to executive Tom Coughlin. Caldwell, Coughlin and Marrone were given one-year extensions on their current deals by owner Shahid Khan after the Jags nearly advanced to the Super Bowl in 2017. It’s not crazy to imagine a scenario in which the Jaguars move on from all three after this season, though it’s possible Coughlin could simply take over as coach.

 

Khan has generally been willing to spend money in free agency and has been patient with his football people, with Mike Mularkey’s one-and-done as an exception. The ownership situation, draft capital and the presence of young talent are appealing here. The Jags aren’t that far off from winning. With an expensive roster and no clear solution at quarterback, though, other jobs are more exciting.

 

5. Cleveland Browns

Biggest strength: Young talent

Biggest weakness: Ownership

 

When I wrote this column last year, I ranked the Browns as the league’s fifth-most desirable opening. This didn’t go over well. Baker Mayfield was playing like a superstar. The Browns had an army of young talent after years of amassing draft picks. Cleveland finished the season 5-2 and looked to be gathering momentum in advance of breaking through in 2019. Who wouldn’t want the Browns job?

 

You’ve seen what happened this season. Preseason concerns about discipline, Freddie Kitchens’ inexperience as a coach, and the offensive line issues all came true. Mayfield regressed and ranks 33rd in the league in passer rating. The Browns were the preseason favorites to win the AFC North, but in a season in which the Steelers had Ben Roethlisberger for one full game and a wild-card spot is going to go to a team quarterbacked by Ryan Tannehill or Devlin Hodges, the Browns will miss the playoffs for the 17th consecutive season. After Cleveland spent the better part of a decade conspicuously rebuilding, the Ravens lapped the Browns and relaunched under the aegis of the Lamar Jackson show in a little over a year.

 

There’s still a lot to like here. The Browns have promising young talent on both sides of the football, even if guys such as Mayfield and cornerback Denzel Ward haven’t been quite as impressive in Year 2. Pass-rusher Myles Garrett, the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, should be back from suspension at some point in 2020. Cleveland’s problems are concentrated along the offensive line, and it’s easier to fix an offensive line than it is to fix holes at four or five different positions across the roster. After trading away picks in the OBJ deal, general manager John Dorsey has an extra third-rounder in 2020 from the Texans thanks to the Duke Johnson swap.

 

If the Browns do fire Kitchens, the Haslams will be hiring a permanent coach for the fifth time since taking over the organization in 2012. That alone will discourage the most promising candidates. The most common rumor as a replacement is former Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who worked with Dorsey in Green Bay. McCarthy might not be a sexy pick given the way the Packers seemed to come up short for most of Aaron Rodgers’ peak, but he helped develop Rodgers into a superstar and won a Super Bowl. After the year the Browns have had, going for the stable, experienced option seems more appealing than it did a year ago.

 

4. Detroit Lions

Biggest strength: Quarterback

Biggest weakness: Ownership

 

The Ford family has generally been very patient with head coaches, which is the biggest reason Matt Patricia is likely to get a third year in Detroit. The Lions hired him after a season in which Jim Caldwell went 9-7 and had the league’s 19th-ranked defense by DVOA. Patricia’s Patriots defense when he was coordinator ranked 31st in DVOA that same season. Since then, the Lions have gone 9-19-1. Patricia’s defenses have ranked 28th and now 24th in DVOA despite trading for defensive tackle Damon Harrison and signing pass-rusher Trey Flowers to a big-money deal in free agency. The Patriots’ defense hasn’t exactly suffered since Patricia left town, either.

 

The only coach the Ford family has fired after two seasons since 1980 is Marty Mornhinweg, who went 5-27 in 2001-02. (Even then, the Lions suggested Mornhinweg would be back before changing their mind and hiring Steve Mariucci.)

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The draw for most coaches here will be Stafford, who provides a built-in floor as one of the league’s most consistently competent quarterbacks. He was in the middle of one of the best stretches of his career before getting injured, and given that he hadn’t missed a game since 2010, it seems fair to call his 2019 back injury an aberration until we see more evidence to the contrary. Stafford isn’t cheap — he has the league’s highest cap hit at $29.5 million this year and is penciled in for the fifth-highest hit in 2020 at $31.5 million — but this version of the quarterback and a solid defense would be a playoff team. If they could just fix that defense.

 

3. Atlanta Falcons

Biggest strength: Ownership

Biggest weakness: Salary cap

 

There are few owners in the NFL who are more coach-friendly than Arthur Blank. Since taking over the Falcons in 2002, he has hired four coaches in 17 seasons: Jim Mora Jr., Bobby Petrino (who quit after one year), Mike Smith and Dan Quinn. He has hired Rich McKay and then Thomas Dimitroff to run football operations. This is one of the most stable, patient organizations in all of sports, let alone football. Any coach coming to work for the Falcons should expect to have four years before seriously worrying about losing his job.

 

Four years would bring us to 2023, which is the final year in the deals of both quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones. Whoever takes over this team if Quinn does get fired will inherit a potentially lethal offense. While things haven’t clicked under coordinator Dirk Koetter this season, and Falcons fans might always hold up Ryan & Co. to the unrealistic standard of the Kyle Shanahan-led Super Bowl offense of 2016, there are six first-round picks on this side of the ball and a couple of borderline Hall of Famers.

 

The defense? This is the part of the house tour in which they keep trying to lead you back to the beautiful outdoor pool so you don’t notice the crater in the roof. Atlanta’s defense has improved slightly after the bye as Quinn has handed his last remaining share of the playcalling duties on defense to Raheem Morris, but let’s be realistic. This is a terrible unit, and outside of the playoffs, it has been a terrible defense for a while. The Falcons haven’t ranked any higher than 22nd in defensive DVOA since 2012. Over the past seven seasons, their average rank by defensive DVOA is 27th.

 

This defense has been horrible for the entirety of Quinn’s tenure with the team. The good news is that he is likely leaving. The bad news is that the Falcons have what is likely the league’s worst cap situation. They have $205.5 million committed to their 2020 cap, which is almost surely going to be over whatever the cap comes out at for 2020, even after you account for a little over $5 million in rollover funds for Atlanta.

 

Most teams in this situation can clear out cap space by releasing expensive players. The Falcons don’t have many deals in which they can create significant room by moving on from a player. Cap managers can typically choose to designate a player as a post-June 1 release to spread the remaining dead money on their deal across two seasons, which creates more short-term cap room, but organizations aren’t allowed to do that in the final year of the current collective bargaining agreement. Would you believe that’s in 2020, too?

 

The Falcons subsequently have some tough choices ahead. They can release running back Devonta Freeman and save $3.5 million. Moving on from offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo and tight end Luke Stocker creates $6.4 million more. Cutting star center Alex Mack would be difficult, but it would create $8 million in room. All of this is before signing a single free agent, which means they will likely have to let breakout tight end Austin Hooper leave without compensation if they want to be even moderately active in the free-agent market on defense.

 

The Falcons should hire the sort of coach who has a track record of drafting and developing young talent on the defensive side of the ball. One logical candidate should be quite familiar to Falcons fans: former Panthers coach Ron Rivera, whose defenses were routinely excellent before dropping off the past couple of seasons.

 

On the other hand, maybe the Falcons should just go after an offensive genius and try to score 40 points every week, defense be damned. With the Patriots struggling mightily and Tom Brady potentially leaving after the season, could this be the time Josh McDaniels actually does leave New England? Is this the sort of job that could lure away Lincoln Riley from Oklahoma? Blank has gone for defensive coaches with each of his past two hires, so given the Falcons’ utter ineptitude on the side of that ball, he could go in that direction again.

 

2. Carolina Panthers

Biggest strength: Talent

Biggest weakness: Quarterback uncertainty

 

The Panthers were one of my picks as the five teams most likely to improve in 2019. They almost surely aren’t going to beat their 7-9 mark from last season, but there’s a better team here than their 5-8 record seems to indicate. In addition to starting the combination of a compromised Cam Newton and an overmatched Kyle Allen at quarterback, the Panthers had four games in which they could have either won or tied things up late in the fourth quarter and were stopped inside the opposition’s 3-yard line.

 

There’s a lot to like here. Marty Hurney has generally done good work in his second stint as general manager, and Carolina is loaded with talent it has drafted over the past several seasons. His moves in free agency have been chosen carefully and limited to short-term contracts; while the likes of defensive linemen Gerald McCoy and Bruce Irvin are about to see their contracts expire, the Panthers are projected with more than $42 million in cap space for 2020 and don’t really have much in the way of bad contracts on their cap. Injuries and retirements could lead them to create an additional $18.1 million in room by moving on from defensive tackle Dontari Poe and tight end Greg Olsen, with that money possibly heading instead toward free-agent cornerback James Bradberry.

 

The Panthers could clear an additional $19 million by moving on from the final year of Newton’s contract, and his situation is the only thing keeping the Panthers from ranking atop this list. He hasn’t been healthy since the first half of 2018, and while he was one of the league’s best quarterbacks while the Panthers started 6-2, he has been a shell of his former self since. Newton underwent shoulder surgery after the 2018 season, and after suffering a Lisfranc injury and attempting to heal it without going under the knife, he had surgery Monday.

 

Newton should recover in time for minicamp, but the Panthers will have to hire a coach and go through the player-acquisition window without seeing what the QB looks like on the field. That’s an almost unbearable amount of uncertainty for an NFL team. Do they cut or attempt to trade their franchise quarterback with no obvious replacement available? If you’re a coaching candidate, how can you make a decision on what to do with Newton when you haven’t even seen him throw? And does Panthers owner David Tepper let the new coach make his own decision about Newton, or is that an organizational call beyond the coach’s purview?

 

Tepper’s role in the process also creates some uncertainty. Prior Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was conservative to a fault, hiring four coaches over his 25 years in charge of the franchise. Tepper, a hedge fund manager who was formerly a Steelers minority owner, fired Rivera less than two years after purchasing the team. Reports have suggested that Tepper plans to integrate a larger dose of analytics into the organization’s decision-making, which might limit the pool of coaches who would take this job. Thankfully for the Panthers, the coaches left in the pool are likely to be better options than the ones who would rule out using data as part of their day-to-day work.

 

The identity of the next coach might be aligned with who ends up playing quarterback for this team. If it’s Newton and the Panthers think the only way to use him is in his prior role as both a passer and runner, I wonder if Carolina might look toward Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who has built a creative, vibrant running attack around MVP favorite Lamar Jackson. Roman also has spent time working for two of the league’s more analytics-friendly shops over the past decade in San Francisco and Baltimore.

 

On a totally different page, the Panthers have been regularly linked with Bill Cowher, who played college football at NC State, over the past decade. Cowher retired before Tepper purchased his minority stake in the Steelers, but their shared familiarity with how the Steelers have built a development machine in Pittsburgh should have plenty of crossover with what Tepper wants to do in Carolina. Cowher sold his house in Carolina in 2018 and moved to New York on a full-time basis for his media duties, but if there was ever an opportunity to make the 62-year-old reconsider his retirement, this might be it. Tepper fired Rivera with the hopes of getting a jump on the hiring process, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Panthers were the first team on this list to lock down their new coach.

 

1. Dallas Cowboys

Biggest strength: Talent

Biggest weakness: Ownership

 

At the top of this list is arguably the most difficult job in the NFL. Whoever takes the Cowboys job will be held to an unrealistic standard and expected to win immediately. Jason Garrett has won an average of 8.9 games per 16, won the NFC East last season, might win it again this season and is being run out of town. I suspect there are people who see this as the most enticing job on this list and others who see it as something closer to the least enticing opportunity.

 

I lean toward the former, and that’s based on talent. Even if some of their stars can be the subject of inordinate hype, there are too many talented players on this roster to make this job unappealing. Most of that core is 27 or younger. The opportunity to start your job off with the likes of quarterback Dak Prescott, wide receiver Amari Cooper, running back Ezekiel Elliott and linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith as they enter their primes is a difference-maker versus other jobs.

 

Of course, two of those guys aren’t even under contract for 2020. The Cowboys have played hardball with Prescott, Cooper, and fellow free agent-to-be Byron Jones. One of the three is likely to leave, and given that one is a quarterback and the other cost the Cowboys a first-round pick via trade, Jones, a former first-round pick who has played safety and cornerback, is probably packing his bags. The final year of the collective bargaining agreement allows the Cowboys to use both the franchise and transition tags to retain players, so they could franchise Prescott and use the transition tag to keep Cooper before negotiating new deals for both.

 

The other reality is that the roster outside of that young core has holes. The offensive line isn’t playing as well as it did during its 2014-16 peak. The secondary is a mess. Pass-rusher Robert Quinn has had a star season and was a brilliant acquisition on the cheap, but he is also a free agent in 2020. DeMarcus Lawrence, who racked up 25 sacks between 2017 and 2018, has five sacks in 13 games this season.

 

Every Cowboys coach has to deal with Jerry Jones, which is both a blessing and a curse. Jones is always willing to spend money. He has been strangely patient with Garrett, letting the former Cowboys backup quarterback enter his 10th year as Dallas coach without ever making it as far as the NFC Championship Game. The Cowboys have actually drafted well over the past decade, although Jerry had to be talked out of taking Johnny Manziel over Zack Martin and drafted Prescott only after missing out on Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook.

 

At the same time, there’s a reason Cole Beasley suggested that the Jones-led front office played favorites in deciding who would be targeted in the passing game. Outside of a several-year window when Bill Parcells first took over, coaching the Cowboys has generally meant dealing with meddling by Jones. Every owner has some say in football operations, but nobody is as closely tied to their team’s decisions as Jerry.

 

In a way, that eliminates a middle tier of options. The top candidates — someone with the stature of a Parcells in 2003 — have enough leverage to push Jones out of the football decision-making hierarchy as a job prerequisite, at least for a couple of years. The borderline options, on the other hand, don’t have the leverage to say no to Jones’ role in the puzzle. The Cowboys will likely miss out on the coaches in between, who aren’t sufficiently impressive to keep Jerry out of the room but who are valuable enough to get an opportunity elsewhere.

 

My suspicion is that Jones is probably looking for a transcendent coach, even if it means temporarily ceding some power. He can always take it back down the line. It took Jones 14 years to go from hiring Jimmy Johnson to hiring Parcells. It has now been 16 years since Jones hired Parcells. The timing might be right for Jones to make a superhire and go after Meyer or Riley. Maybe he tries to strike a deal to get someone like former longtime Cowboys assistant Mike Zimmer if the Vikings don’t make a lengthy playoff run.

 

If not, the Cowboys will likely go for a less experienced option and wait to strike when the right candidate approaches. The obvious move in that scenario would be to promote Kellen Moore, given that the first-year offensive coordinator could leave for a head-coaching job elsewhere this offseason. Moore would appease Cowboys fans who have seen the growth in Dallas’ offense this season but who also want Garrett gone. It also would leave the Cowboys with the flexibility to pursue someone like Riley if they come available over the next couple of years. Jones won’t lack for candidates. After a decade with Garrett, though, the 77-year-old owner may lack for patience with this next head coach if the Cowboys don’t win quickly.