The lone surprise emanating from Hue Jackson's dismissal Monday was that it took so long for Cleveland to fire a coach who'd won three times in 40 games. (Fun fact: there are currently seven NFL teams riding streaks of at least three victories, something the Browns last managed in 2014.)
Jackson was the first head coach to get pink-slipped in 2018, but the Nordic packages had already been warmed elsewhere as Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith and Cards offensive coordinator Mike McCoy were terminated in recent weeks. The Cowboys even dumped new-ish offensive line coach Paul Alexander on Monday.
The takeaway? Seats are about to get hotter in general (especially for coaches not armed with $100 million contracts) as struggling clubs begin laying groundwork for fresh starts and opportunities to court potential successors once top jobs are vacated. In a league that usually has at least a half-dozen openings annually, these head men could be on increasingly shaky ground:
1. Vance Joseph, Broncos: He's 8-16 after a season-and-a-half … and Denver hasn't suffered through consecutive sub-.500 campaigns since 1972. The quarterback quandary isn't Joseph's fault, but John Elway isn't going to ax himself. And given how a talented defense has regressed under Joseph, that could be reason enough to receive walking papers.
2. Dirk Koetter, Buccaneers: He's desperately trying to keep this 3-4 ship seaworthy, now seeking fairer winds by sending Jameis Winston to the brig. Koetter said Monday that he's refusing to look beyond the next game — a visit to Carolina (5-2) is reason enough to focus — and that may be wise since heavy storm clouds seem to be gathering over the horizon. The Winston benching signals an organizational debacle, and Koetter's inability to shepherd the No. 1 pick of the 2015 draft into a franchise passer likely means he'll eventually wind up on the plank, even if Ryan Fitzpatrick somehow Fitzmagics an unexpected wild-card berth.
3. Steve Wilks, Cardinals: Giving a rookie coach just one year would be the epitome of the cutthroat NFL's unfairness. But Wilks has had an especially rocky run through eight games, including his decision to punt McCoy. Team captain Patrick Peterson isn't happy. Larry Fitzgerald is uncharacteristically taking his frustration out on the football. Wilks seems more concerned about installing his schemes than tailoring them to his roster's existing talent — and Arizona has some good players. Such apparent rigidity, especially from an unproven coach who only had one previous season as an NFL coordinator, suggests this may not work. If that wasn't enough, Arizona's brain trust may also need to strongly consider hiring an offensive guru soon to ensure rookie quarterback Josh Rosen is on the proper trajectory.
4. John Harbaugh, Ravens: Owner Steve Bisciotti almost cut the cord with his longtime coach after last season, when Baltimore's Week 17 belly flop at home vs. the also-ran Bengals rendered the Ravens also-rans themselves for the fourth time in five years. After a 3-1 start in 2018 and strong indications a playoff return was imminent, Baltimore is suddenly floundering at .500 and facing a tough stretch of its schedule. Harbaugh could be approaching do-or-die territory if he wants to return for a 12th go-round in 2019.
5. Todd Bowles, Jets: In his defense, New York has meandered from the false premise it could contend to start Bowles' tenure into full rebuild mode. With their presumed franchise quarterback now in the building and a ton of salary cap space next year, maybe the Jets are on the cusp of a long-awaited breakthrough. But speaking of Bowles' defense, it hasn't been nearly as good as anticipated despite the resources that have been devoted to it. And a .411 winning percentage — .325 (13-27) since 2016 — won't get you much slack in New York, teardown or not.
6. Adam Gase, Dolphins: His team has plenty of flaws, not necessarily of Gase's making. Miami is treading water at 4-4 yet is consistently competitive whenever Ryan Tannehill is healthy enough to play … though no telling when that might happen again. But it's worth wondering a bit about Gase, who's let a lot of (often unhappy) talent out of his locker room, has gotten a touch salty at recent news conferences and incurred the wrath of receiver DeVante Parker's agent.
7. Doug Marrone, Jaguars: Shad Khan has proven a very patient owner, and it appeared his restraint would be rewarded for years after a young, talented team finally blossomed into AFC runners-up in 2017. (And with longtime NFL coach Tom Coughlin serving as the franchise's executive vice president of football operations, it seems unlikely Marrone's head will imminently be on a platter.) But Jacksonville may be the most disappointing, underachieving group of 2018, one that now appears poised to rip itself apart internally. And as a precocious defense displays its obvious frustration, more scorn is heaped upon quarterback Blake Bortles and an offense lacking imagination. Something's probably got to give at some point.
8. Jason Garrett, Cowboys: Who knows, right? Owner Jerry Jones is quite comfortable with Garrett, now in his eighth full season — and very possibly his sixth that will end sans playoffs. Yet Jones was atypically critical of Garrett's decision to punt in overtime of a Week 5 loss at Houston. Dallas has alternated wins and losses over its past 10 games — a new level of mediocrity even for Garrett, who already has three 8-8 finishes on his résumé. And then there's the Dak Prescott dilemma. Jones could pay him like a franchise quarterback for the first time next spring, but Prescott's development is now trailing that of peers Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and maybe even Mitchell Trubisky. That could mean a switch at offensive coordinator instead if Prescott's arrow doesn't start trending significantly upward, but it's worrisome that Garrett, a former NFL QB himself, hasn't been able to foster Prescott's advancement further.
9. Mike Tomlin, Steelers: Given this franchise's track record for stability (Tomlin is one of three coaches Pittsburgh has employed over the last 50 years), it's hard to imagine him winding up in serious jeopardy. But the standard is especially high in the Steel City, which hasn't seen its team in the Super Bowl since 2010 and is a decade removed from its most recent championship. Tomlin's also dealt with quite a bit of locker room drama in recent years and is often criticized for failing to root it out. Chances are he'll be back for Year 13, but keep an eye on this situation … especially given the tumult that could result from Le'Veon Bell's pending return.
Follow Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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