The balance of power in the NFL shifted, theoretically, during the first week of free agency with dozens of players changing teams.
Where does that leave the coaches?
Coaches of teams that are labeled “winners” in free agency will be feeling the heat in 2016. If they don’t translate these supposed roster improvements into more wins, they could be looking for a new job in 2017.
Here are five head coaches whose seat temperatures have risen in the aftermath of the initial free-agent shopping spree.
No. 5: Jack Del Rio
Jack Del Rio’s seat will be lukewarm if the Raiders don’t get off to a decent start in 2016. In his first year at the helm, Del Rio led the Raiders to a 7-9 record, their best mark since 2011. They were 4-3 at one point before a three-game losing streak ruined their playoff hopes.
The Raiders have added linebacker Bruce Irvin, a piece of the Seahawks’ championship defense, to play opposite star-in-the-making Khalil Mack. They’ve brought guard Kelechi Osemele to an offensive line that already was ranked sixth in 2015 by Pro Football Focus. They also lured cornerback Sean Smith, who’s broken up at least 12 passes in each of the last four seasons, from division rival Kansas City.
Quarterback Derek Carr, wide receiver Amari Cooper and running back Latavius Murray form a promising core of skill-position players on offense. The future looks bright in Oakland.
It’s possible Del Rio will have some leeway since it will only be his second season. But if the Raiders don’t at least contend for a playoff spot in 2016, questions will be raised.
No. 4: Bill O’Brien
However unproven Brock Osweiler is, the perception is that the Texans finally have a franchise quarterback.
The motley crew of Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett, T.J. Yates and Brandon Weeden got the Texans to the playoffs, even if they were sacrificial lambs against the Chiefs.
Now Osweiler and running back Lamar Miller, who has run for 1,971 yards and 16 touchdowns over the past two seasons, join forces with DeAndre Hopkins to form an offensive engine that should help a defense that ranked third in the league in 2015.
The Texans have gone 9-7 in each of O’Brien’s first two seasons. Considering his offensive background, they’ll be expected to take a step forward in 2016 based on their signings on that side of the ball. If they don’t, the front office might start evaluating the head coaching situation.
No. 3: Mike McCoy
Mike McCoy got a pass for the Chargers’ 4-12 campaign because of the laundry list of injuries the team suffered in 2015. He even signed a one-year extension that supposedly will keep him at the helm through the 2017 season.
Six assistant coaches were let go, however, and it’s possible McCoy had to pull the trigger on those firings to keep his job. It’s also possible that McCoy will be calling the plays on offense in 2016, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. So it seems McCoy has both lost some power and gained some responsibility if the Chargers’ offense falls flat in 2016.
That offense has added wide receiver Travis Benjamin, who broke out in 2016 with 68 catches for the Browns and was tied for fourth in the NFL with 11.6 yards per punt return. Keenan Allen caught 67 passes in half a season last year before going down with a lacerated kidney. In 2016, Benjamin’s presence could prevent him from seeing too many double-teams.
The Chargers fortified their 20th-ranked defense with cornerback Casey Hayward, hoping the 26-year-old can replicate his rookie form that yielded six interceptions and 21 passes defended in 2012. They brought in journeyman safety Dwight Lowery to replace Eric Weddle and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane goes from the Seahawks’ 4-3 defense to the Chargers’ 3-4.
McCoy went 9-7 in his first two seasons as Chargers’ coach, with an AFC divisional playoff appearance in 2013. If he doesn’t reverse the franchise’s downward spiral, he might not be working that last year on his contract.
No. 2: Gus Bradley
Like Mike McCoy, Gus Bradley’s employer showed tepid support by giving him a one-year extension, and it might come with the assumption that the Jaguars will improve next season.
I actually like Gus Bradley quite a bit and hope he does well this season. Pressure getting cranked up a notch. Rebuild time is over.
— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) March 9, 2016
The Jaguars have gone 4-12, 3-13 and 5-11 in Bradley’s three seasons. Another losing season in 2016 will make a lot of people wonder why he’s still the head coach, especially since the Jaguars signed seven free agents.
Blake Bortles and the receiving tandem of Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns bring energy to the offense, and 1,070-yard rusher Chris Ivory comes on board to improve a rushing attack that was 27th in the league last season and next-to-last with five rushing touchdowns.
Defensive end Malik Jackson brings his 5.5 sacks, seven passes defended and Super Bowl ring from Denver. The Jaguars also hope to bolster their defense with cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Tashaun Gipson. Amukamara has only played one 16-game season in his five years in the league because of injuries, and Gipson has fallen off from his 2014 Pro Bowl season. The former Brown had two interceptions and two passes defended in 2015. That’s down from six and eight, respectively, in 2014.
Even if they don’t all pan out, the Jaguars signed enough free agents to make it clear that they’re trying to move up in the world.
If Bradley doesn’t keep them moving, the organization might re-think its confidence in him.
No. 1: Dan Quinn
Dan Quinn is only entering his second season as Falcons head coach, but he might be on a short leash after overseeing a collapse that left the Falcons at 8-8 after a 6-1 start.
Highlighting Atlanta’s free-agent haul is three-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was signed to replace Roddy White. Sanu, 26, caught 33 passes last season. White caught 83 passes when he was 26. Still, the signing probably will be looked at as a failure if Sanu can’t fill White’s shoes.
The Falcons also signed defensive end Derrick Shelby from the Dolphins. Atlanta was last in the NFL last season with 19 sacks and is getting a guy who had 3.5 sacks after taking over for Cameron Wake as a starter in 2015. Shelby also forced two fumbles and batted down four passes. He’d have been credited with a fifth but he ended up catching that pass and taking it in for a touchdown in a win over the Ravens.
Shelby could be an under-the-radar signing for the Falcons. Even if more people recognize that name next season, however, Quinn’s job could be on the line if the Falcons aren’t at least serious playoff contenders.