About Sarkisian: The Falcons are really rolling the dice with their hire of Sarkisian, who is certainly well regarded in coaching circles but comes with some major baggage. He has limited NFL experience and has never called a play in the league, and he was fired his from last head coaching job at USC in 2015 because of alcohol abuse. Sark’s offensive mind landed him major head-coaching jobs at Washington (2009-13) and USC (2014-15), and Nick Saban brought him as an offensive analyst last season before giving him the OC job just before the national championship game in January. Sarkisian was looking into the NFL ranks before the 2016 season, even visiting Dan Quinn and the Falcons during training camp last August before he took a position on Saban’s staff in September. Sark and Quinn both come from Pete Carroll’s coaching tree, and they knew each other from their time in Seattle during 2009 and 2010 – Sark with Washington and Quinn with the Seahawks. The two have never actually worked with each other, as Quinn worked under Carroll during Seattle’s Super Bowl runs in 2013 and 2014 and Sark coached under Carroll at USC in 2005-08. The vast majority of Sark's experience comes at the college level, but he did serve as the Raiders QB coach under Norv Turner in 2004. Sarkisian, who will turn 43 in March, is taking over the highest-scoring offense led by the 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan. No pressure. Sarkisian is expected expected to run a similar West Coast, outside-zone scheme that Kyle Shanahan deftly deployed last season. Ryan thrived in no-huddle situations and using play-action, both staples of Sark’s offenses through the years. “As a play-caller, I felt like, No. 1, what an aggressive play-caller he’s been through the years,” Quinn said of Sark after his hiring. “He has a real familiarity, from the wide zone scheme, the play-action, the keepers — that’s such a big part of what we do.”
About Manuel: The Falcons shocked many by firing DC Richard Smith after their stunning Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. Smith had gotten a pretty young Falcons defense to steadily improve throughout the season, especially at the end of the season, before their second-half collapse in the Super Bowl. Of course, just how much credit Smith actually deserved is debatable since Dan Quinn is calling most of the shots on defense. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Quinn got more involved with the defense and the defensive play-calling after the Falcons Week 11 bye. Smith is also 61 years old, and Quinn has been grooming Manuel the last couple years, who is a rising star in the defensive coaching ranks at just 37 years old. Manuel played for six teams over eight seasons (2002-09) as a safety before landing a job with the Seahawks and eventually becoming the assistant secondary coach in Seattle under Quinn. Manuel followed Quinn to Atlanta the last two seasons, and he even interviewed for the Jaguars DC job last off-season and was offered a passing-game coordinator job, which he obviously turned down. Before becoming the Falcons DC, Manuel was best known for asking then CB draft prospect Eli Apple if “he liked men” during a Combine interview, which turned into a major firestorm around the league. Manuel helped young DBs Jalen Collins, Brian Poole, and Keanu Neal improve with top CB Desmond Trufant (pectoral) out for the season. Manuel has never called plays, so we’d expect Quinn to stay heavily involved with the defense until Manuel proves he’s ready to take full control.
About McDermott: The Bills brought in another defensive coach to lead the franchise, which was a bit of surprise since it looks like they could be resetting their QB situation once again this off-season. However, McDermott is the complete opposite of his predecessor Rex Ryan. The Bills subbed out Ryan’s brash, boisterous ways for McDermott’s understated, no nonsense approach. McDermott paid his dues under HC Andy Reid and DC Jim Johnson in Philadelphia and under HC Ron Rivera in Carolina most recently, so it’s not surprising that he’ll bring a more restrained approach to Buffalo. McDermott will be just 43 years old in March, but he’s already logged 18 years in the league between the Eagle and Panthers, including the last eight years as a defensive coordinator in Philly (2009-10) and Carolina (2011-16). He had a run of four straight years with a top-10 defense in total yards in 2012-15 before ranking 21st last season. The Panthers did lose some talent in the secondary, most notably Josh Norman, but the unit had started to turn a corner by the end of the season. McDermott is fully expected to switch the Bills from a 3-4 scheme with man coverage to an aggressive 4-3 next season that uses zone coverage on the back end. Many Bills players were unhappy with Ryan’s complex defense the last two years, so McDermott’s far less complicated approach will be a refreshing change. In simple terms, McDermott wants his front four to generate pressure, he wants his LBs to fly to the ball, and he wants his secondary to play with good spacing. This is obviously a great opportunity for McDermott, but he could also be set up for failure if he doesn’t get this franchise into the playoffs quickly. GM Doug Whaley kept his job once again, even after pushing hard for EJ Manuel back in 2013 and now seemingly pushing out Tyrod Taylor out. Whaley got to hire another HC and it looks like he could pick yet another QB, so owner Terry Pegula might be running short on patience.
About Dennison: New HC Sean McDermott went with a safer hire in Dennison, who brings plenty of experience to Buffalo. McDermott’s experience is on the defensive side, so Dennison will have total control of this offense next season. Dennison has almost always been in the shadows of Gary Kubiak and Mike Shanahan since he broke into the league in 1995. He’s worked under either Shanahan and/or Kubiak in all but one of his 22 seasons as a coach – 2009 in Denver under Josh McDaniels. Dennison was most recently the OC in Denver the last two years, but he wasn’t retained after Kubiak resigned at the end of the season. Dennison has had three other stints as an OC, starting under Shanahan in Denver (2006-08) before serving under Kubiak in Houston (2010-13) and Denver (2015-16). However, it’s unclear just how much play-calling he’s actually done in his nine seasons as an OC working under two great offensive minds in Kubiak and Shanahan. It seems highly likely that he’ll bring the run-first, play-action principles that have been staples of Kubiak’s offenses the last decade. Most of his time has also been spent working in zone-blocking schemes, which will be an interesting dynamic this off-season. The Bills, led by LeSean McCoy, easily led the league in rushing last season with 2630 yards (164.4 yards per game), and they did it with a power-running scheme that’s been very successful the last two years. The other big question coming out of Buffalo this off-season will center around their QB situations. Dennison did work with Tyrod Taylor back in 2014, the only season that Kubiak and Dennison worked with the Ravens. Dennison hasn’t worked with many star-studded QBs over the years, and it will be his task to get the most out of whoever is at QB, whether it’s Taylor or a new signal-caller in 2017.
About Frazier: Frazier will get his fourth crack as a defensive coordinator since breaking into the league as a DB coach in 1999 with Philadelphia, where he worked with Sean McDermott through 2002. Frazier, who will turn 58 in April, has served as defensive coordinator with the Bengals (2003-04), Vikings (2007-10), and Buccaneers (2014-15). He also went 21-32-1 as the head coach in Minnesota from 2010-13, reaching the playoffs once. Frazier most recently worked as the secondary coach with the Ravens last season. McDermott is a first-time HC and a relatively young one at that, so he went with two experienced lieutenants at OC (Rick Dennison) and DC. McDermott is fully expected to switch the Bills from a 3-4 scheme with man coverage to an aggressive 4-3 alignment that uses zone coverage on the back end, and Frazier has plenty of experience running the 4-3, most recently under Lovie Smith in Tampa. McDermott is likely to call most of the shots with the Bills defense next season, but Frazier certainly has enough experience as a DC to take over play-calling responsibilities once the two feel comfortable with each other.
About Wilks: A much-respected coach (though perhaps little-known to the public), Wilks is getting his first shot as an NFL defensive coordinator in 2017 following the departure of Sean McDermott to be the head coach in Buffalo. Wilks has been a defensive backs coach in the NFL for the last 11 years, including serving under Ron Rivera at different points with the Bears, Chargers, and now Panthers. For the last two years, Wilks has served as Carolina’s assistant head coach in addition to coaching the DBs, so he’s clearly a well-liked coach among his players as well. Wilks’ reputation is for coaching up unknown players – Josh Norman became a star under him, and he managed to have solid success despite starting two rookie CBs in James Bradberry and Daryl Worley this season. And given the Panthers have had significant success defensively under Rivera and McDermott, Wilks isn’t expected to change much scheme-wise. Wilks may blitz more than McDermott did in his tenure with the Panthers, but don’t expect him to all of a sudden look like Dick LeBeau out there. It’s a well-deserved promotion for Wilks, but even Panther fans may not notice the difference on gameday.
About Williams: Williams became available after the Rams fired Jeff Fisher and the organization decided not to retain Williams at the end of the season. The Browns parted ways with Ray Horton after just one season to get Williams, one of the more respected defensive minds in the game. Williams has been in the league for 26 years, including 15 years as a defensive coordinator and three as a head coach. He’s coached five top-five total defenses between the Titans (2000), the Bills (2001, 2003), the Redskins (2005), and the Saints (2010). He was of course mixed up in the “Bountygate” scandal in New Orleans and suspended for the entire 2012 season, but he did win a Super Bowl with the Saints in 2009. Williams is a disciple of Buddy Ryan, playing an aggressive 4-3 defense, which is obviously a change from Horton’s 3-4 defense. He’s got his hands full trying to turn around one of the worst defenses in 2016, which isn’t loaded with talent although they did ink talented LB Jamie Collins to a long-term deal in January. The Browns ranked 31st in yards allowed (6279) and 30th in points allowed (452), but a dismal Browns offense didn’t help matters. The good news is that they have plenty of picks to adapt to a 4-3 scheme and to upgrade this defense, including the #1 overall pick. Texas A&M DL Myles Garrett could be a great fit for Williams’ defense, and he could be the disruptive force up front that Williams is looking for like he had in Aaron Donald the last few years.
About Joseph: It’s been a meteoric rise for Joseph, who has exactly one year of coordinator-level experience under his belt – as the defensive coordinator for the Dolphins under Adam Gase in 2016. Prior to that, he had spent 11 year in the NFL between three teams. He served as an assistant DBs coach with the 49ers in 2005, then was promoted to DBs coach from 2006 to 2010. He served under former Bronco coach Gary Kubiak as DBs coach in Houston from 2011 to 2013, then moved on to the same position with the Bengals for 2014 and 2015. He was hired to serve as defensive coordinator for Gase last season, and now he’s the head coach in Denver (the Broncos reportedly favored Joseph over Wade Phillips when hiring a DC under Kubiak in 2014, interestingly enough). His hiring did raise some eyebrows – in 2016, he coached a Dolphin defense that ranked 29th in the NFL in yards allowed, and 18th in points allowed. In particular, the run defense struggled, as it was 30th in yards allowed. But those things may not even been entirely under Joseph’s watch in Denver. The Broncos appear to be taking the Pete Carroll approach with their coaching structure – Joseph is well regarded in league circles for his people skills, and it’s entirely possible that he’s viewed more in John Elway’s eyes as a “CEO” rather than a coach who is heavily involved in both the offensive and defensive gameplans on a weekly basis. A former player and coach at the University of Colorado, Joseph has some experience in the area, and he was actually teammates with Broncos’ director of pro personnel Matt Russell while with the Buffaloes (as the Broncos’ official website noted). It’s the personal relationships that the Broncos are counting on with Joseph, as he’s also drawn an endorsement from the recently retired Kubiak. It’s hard for us to make a call on Joseph since his track record as a coach is so brief, but he hit a home run with his OC hire, Mike McCoy. Hopefully, he gives McCoy free reign with the Denver offense.
About McCoy: It’s fair to argue that McCoy’s teams in San Diego constantly underachieved, so with the Chargers moving to Los Angeles for 2017, making a clean break and bringing in a new staff certainly made some sense. But McCoy’s Chargers were also constantly plagued by injuries, to what seemed like a disproportionate level vis-à-vis the rest of the NFL. Nonetheless, McCoy is a respected offensive mind who, above all, has shown adaptability. Heading into 2017, he has been an offensive coordinator or head coach for eight seasons in the NFL, starting with a four-year stretch as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator from 2009-2012. McCoy has coached teams with Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning, and Philip Rivers at QB. So he has coached two Hall of Famers, a career fringe starter, and a low-level baseball player. McCoy coached the #1 offense in the NFL in 2012, Manning’s first year with the Broncos, then he followed that up with a #9 overall season with Rivers in San Diego. It would be wise for new Bronco head coach Vance Joseph to allow McCoy free reign over Denver’s offense, then. And to Joseph’s credit, he told reporters he wants an “attacking” offense with big-play potential, which is refreshing to see from a defensive-minded head coach. The concern for the players who are staying in Denver is the fact that McCoy will be installing new terminology; that’s not ideal for second-year QB Paxton Lynch, who sat and learned behind Trevor Siemian as a rookie, but now he’s going to have to learn a new system. On the flip side, McCoy’s work with a variety of QBs should ensure he puts both Siemian and Lynch in the best position to succeed, and also opens up the Broncos to make a play for a guy like Tony Romo if they so choose. McCoy was a strong hire by Joseph, in that he’s an inexperienced head coach bringing in perhaps the most qualified offensive coordinator on the market.
About Woods: Though the Broncos are rebuilding their staff following the retirement of Gary Kubiak, it makes complete sense that they’re searching for continuity defensively. Though Wade Phillips’ contract expired, Phillips’ most valued assistant will take over as coordinator. Woods has a relationship with new head coach Vance Joseph, though they’ve never actually coached together, and in fact Joseph recommended Woods to Kubiak when Kubiak took over with the Broncos. A long-time NFL DBs coach, Woods has spent the last 13 years coaching secondaries with the Buccaneers, Vikings, Raiders, and Broncos. And given the Broncos have the NFL’s best secondary, promoting Woods seems like a no-brainer. Denver will see a lot of change this year, but we doubt Woods’ defenses will look a whole lot different than Phillips’. That’s smart, considering Mike McCoy is going to have to decide which offense works best with their personnel.
About O’Brien: The Brock Osweiler era in Houston couldn’t have gotten off to worse start. The Texans needed a scapegoat for his failures, and 38-year-old OC George Godsey took the fall for the organization as the two sides “mutually” parted ways. To know one’s surprise, O’Brien will take back over full control of play-calling duties in a make-or-break season for him and this organization. He handled the responsibility in his first season with the Texans back in 2014, and he handled play-calling duties early in 2016 as they transitioned to Godsey. O’Brien had a constant say in the calls throughout last season, but there will be no one to blame in 2017 if the offense continues to struggle – with or without Osweiler at QB. There’s some friction between O’Brien and GM Rick Smith over the signing of Osweiler to a huge contract last off-season, which bubbled to a head at the end of the year. No respected offensive coach was going to accept the OC job here to work with Osweiler in what could be a one-year situation based on the turmoil between O’Brien and Smith. The offense won’t undergo any kind of overhaul in system with O’Brien back in charge, but he’ll likely need to figure out how to get the most out of Osweiler if they don’t address the position this off-season.
About Vrabel: Vrabel, who is just 41 years old, is a rising star in the profession, and the Texans didn’t want him to slip away to another DC job. The Texans convinced 69-year-old Romeo Crennel, whose contract expired in 2016, to remain with the team as an assistant head coach, which obviously opened up the DC job for Vrabel. Crennel will help with Vrabel’s transition, playing a key part in game planning, but the play-calling duties will now be left to Vrabel. Crennel didn’t succeed as a head coach in Cleveland, but he’s earned a reputation as being one of the better defensive coordinators in the league with his diverse schemes. The Texans are coming off a year in which they finished as the top-ranked defense, even without the best defender in the NFL in J.J. Watt, so any major steps back will be pinned on Vrabel. He’s been an NFL coach for just three years as a LB coach in Houston (2014-16), but he’s played an important part in the development of LBs Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, and others. If Vrabel can maintain the success of this Texans defense, he could be a hot candidate for head-coaching positions in the near future.
About Marrone: Many people around the league thought that Marrone would never get another chance to be a head coach after quitting on the Bills at the end of the 2014 season. Most of those same people would also agree that Marrone did a good job in a tough situation in Buffalo, with the franchise undergoing a tumultuous ownership change. In two seasons with the Bills, he went 15-17 overall and guided the franchise to their first winning record in a decade with a 9-7 mark in 2014. Gus Bradley gave Marrone another chance as an assistant HC/O-line coach in 2015-16, and Marrone benefitted from Bradley’s woeful performance at the end of 2016. Since the NFL-AFL merger, Bradley posted the worst winning percentage of any head coach with 50 games under their belts, winning just .226 of his games (14-48 record). The Jaguars finally cut ties with Bradley after Week 15, and Marrone guided the Jaguars to two of their best performances of the year in Weeks 16-17, getting the most out of WR Allen Robinson and managing Blake Bortles. Marrone, who will turn 53 in July, gave the team a spark they hadn’t shown in four years under Bradley, and owner Shad Khan decided to keep things pretty much the same. Khan extended GM Dave Caldwell, who has managed to put together a talented, yet underachieving roster. However, Khan did bring in Tom Coughlin as the executive vice president of football operations, who will have the final say over the roster. By their lack of moves in January, the Jaguars seem to believe that Bradley was the biggest issue with this current team – we don’t know what took Khan so long to figure it out. They are going to expect much better results from Marrone quickly, and his biggest task will be harnessing Bortles and turning him into a more efficient player. Marrone has spent most of his time working with O-lines during his career, and he’ll need to develop a running game to have any chance of protecting Bortles from himself after his drastic regression in 2016.
About Hackett: The Jaguars stuck mostly with the status quo with their coaching staff, hiring OC Hackett full-time after flirting with Chip Kelly. QB Blake Bortles wanted his QB coach Hackett to stick around and, whether they like it or not, the franchise is tied to Bortles through at least 2017. Hackett has been unable to fix Bortles’ terrible mechanics the last two years, and the young QB’s mechanics actually got noticeably worse in 2016. The offense didn’t improve after Hackett took over the offense from Greg Olson for the final nine games of 2016. According to The Florida Times-Union, the Jaguars averaged 19.9 points and 330.6 yards under Olson in the first seven games. Bortles had 9 interceptions. In the final nine games under Hackett, the Jaguars averaged 19.9 points and 338.3 yards. Bortles had 7 interceptions. Despite being just 37 years old, Hackett does have prior experience as a play-caller before last season. He worked under Marrone as the OC during his two year stay in Buffalo from 2013-14, and he also worked under him as an OC while at Syracuse in 2011-12. Olson had a propensity for the slinging the ball around the lot, especially downfield in his one and a half season as the OC. Hackett will look to establish a much better running game to balance this offense and to take the pressure off of the shaky Bortles.
About Burke: The Broncos tabbed former Dolphins DC Vance Joseph for their head-coaching vacancy, and the Dolphins kept it in house by promoting Burke to his first defensive coordinating position. Burke has been a linebackers coach for the last eight seasons with the Lions (2009-13), Bengals (2014-15), and Dolphins (2016). Burke said he plans to keep largely the same system that Joseph ran last year, which will help this defense that just adjusted to a new coaching staff in 2016. Burke did work under Jim Schwartz early in his career, and he could shape his 4-3 scheme to get the most of star DT Ndamukong Suh. “We want to be an attacking defense, what we started trying to build here,” Burke said after being announced as the new DC. “Be aggressive. I know we said this before, but we want to tailor our scheme to our players.” The Dolphins defense is coming off a bad year, allowing the most yards in franchise history (6122) and they finished 29th in yards allowed per game (382.6). The Dolphins did deal with a number of injuries at OLB and in their secondary, which really hindered this group. Miami could overhaul this linebacker corps, and they should spend quite a few of their picks on defense in the draft. They also have some up-and-coming CBs in Xavien Howard and Tony Lippett, so this unit should be improved under Burke next season.
New York Jets
About Morton: No, not Johnnie Morton the former Lions receiver, John Morton the former Saints WR Coach. The 47-year-old coach will take over for the retired Chan Gailey, who “retired” at the end of the season. The Jets cleaned house on the offensive side of the ball, giving HC Todd Bowles one last chance to turn things around. The problem is the Jets have one of the worst rosters in the league right now, and Bowles appears to be a lame duck coach unless they have a miracle turnaround in 2017. It took the Jets nearly four weeks to hire an offensive coordinator because they were never going to attract a proven candidate who could be out of a job in a year. Morton will have a ton of responsibility working with Bowles since the third-year HC is so focused on the defensive side. Morton has never called plays at the NFL level, but he called plays in college and has worked under three of the most respected coaches in the league. He called plays for two seasons at USC (2009-10) including a year under Pete Carroll, before coaching WRs under Jim Harbaugh (2011-14) in San Fran and Sean Payton (2015-16) in New Orleans. Morton helped to develop a trio of young Saints WRs in Brandin Cooks, Michael Thomas, and Willie Snead, who combined for 242/3205/21 receiving last season. He’ll get to work with veteran WRs Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker this season, but his biggest task will be developing the player(s) getting those studs the ball. The Jets have a complete mess at quarterback entering the off-season. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith will likely be gone and Christian Hackenberg and Bryce Petty are long-term projects at the position, at best. Morton will play a huge role in the development of these young QBs, and the rumors are already swirling that he could be interested in bringing one of his former players Colin Kaepernick from his time with the 49ers. The Jets were Brandon Marshall-centric with Fitz at QB and Robby Anderson-centric with Petty, so Morton will look to bring balance to the offense which the Saints have accomplished. Morton is expected to combine some elements from both Payton and Harbaugh, and he’ll actually use play-action and a TE – the Saints run primarily 11 personnel (1RB, 1TE, 3WR) – things Chan hasn’t done the last few years.
Los Angeles Chargers
About Lynn: Lynn’s tenure with the Chargers will hopefully go smoother than it did in his introductory press conference when he said he was pumped to be the head coach of the “San Diego, uh, L.A. Chargers.” Oops. It was certainly an innocent mistake by the first time HC given the Chargers’ sudden transition from San Diego to Los Angeles. Lynn made plenty of transitions from September through January, as he saw his stock in the coaching community quickly rise. While with the Bills in 2016, he went from being an assistant head coach/running backs coach to offensive coordinator in Week 3 to interim head coach in Week 17. He cooled on the Bills job when the organization benched Tyrod Taylor in the season finale, and he was then a leading candidate for several head-coaching jobs before settling on the Chargers job. Lynn is a former NFL RB and has worked with five different teams (Jags, Cowboys, Browns, Jets, and Bills) as a RB coach, so it’s not surprising that a bit of a running-game specialist. He comes from Rex Ryan’s “ground-and-pound” background, and Lynn emphasized physicality at his introductory presser. He also played and worked under Mike Shanahan and was an assistant to Bill Parcells. The Bills, led by LeSean McCoy, easily led the league in rushing last season with 2630 yards (164.4 yards per game), and they did it with a power-running scheme that’s been very successful the last two years. The Bills averaged 5.3 YPC and no other team averaged more than 4.9, and he got the most out of the Bills offense that was light in talent and riddled with injuries. Melvin Gordon is coming off a break-out second season and stands to benefit the most from Lynn’s hiring, although QB Philip Rivers could also really use a strong running game as his play deteriorated late in the year especially after Gordon’s season-ending injury early in Week 14. Lynn did retain Ken Whisenhunt as the team’s play-caller, who has a strong track record as an OC but a less than sterling HC resume. Lynn and Whisenhunt have never worked together, and if this arranged marriage gets off to a bumpy start next season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lynn take over play-calling duties. The Chargers obviously want to get off to a fast start in Los Angeles to build a fanbase in their new hometown, and the window to build around their franchise QB is quickly starting to shrink as well. Lynn certainly has some pieces to work with to have immediate success, and a reversal of their recent health misfortune would also help.
About Bradley: Bradley’s tenure in Jacksonville was one for the record books…just not the kind of record any coach would forever want associated with their name. Based on record alone, Bradley is the worst head coach in the modern NFL. Since the NFL-AFL merger, Bradley has the worst winning percentage of any head coach with 50 games under their belts, winning just .226 of his games (14-48 record). Despite his awful last four seasons with the Jaguars, he was still the most sought after defensive coach available this off-season after Wade Phillips. New HC Anthony Lynn targeted Bradley, who will turn 51 in July, and got his man. The Jaguars were bad on both sides of the ball during his four years, but the defense was making some strides toward being a strong group when they fired him in December. Bradley’s claim to fame came during his four-year stretch as the Seahawks DC in 2009-2012. He took a unit that ranked 30th in the league in 2008 and led them to top-10 finishes in yards allowed three times. They also allowed the fewest points in his points in his final season in Seattle. Bradley got looks from the Redskins and the 49ers, but he went with a young and talented defense in the Chargers. He could have some early success working with the defensive rookie of the year Joey Bosa and standout young CBs Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett. He traditionally runs a 4-3 base, which will be a bit of a change from John Pagano’s 3-4 scheme, but both coaches were quite multiple with their looks the last few years.
Los Angeles Rams
About McVay: Look, McVay may be a risk – after all, at age 31, he’s the youngest NFL head coach in modern history (even younger than Lane Kiffin was when the Raiders hired him). But given Los Angeles is leaving the mind-numbing mediocrity of the Jeff Fisher era, we absolutely respect the decision to go in the exact opposite direction. Despite being just 31, McVay has spent eight years as an NFL coach, including the last three years as Washington’s offensive coordinator. As Washington’s offensive coordinator, McVay helped turn Kirk Cousins into one of the NFL’s most efficient quarterbacks. In 2016, the Redskins were 3rd in yardage and 12th in points. And though they were 17th in yardage in 2015, they were 10th in scoring. And though no one would exactly consider Cousins a big-armed QB, McVay’s offense (under Jay Gruden) was very effective in taking calculated deep shots. Though McVay’s offenses with Washington were very pass-heavy, they lacked a particularly effective run game with him as OC, so they adjusted. It’s not entirely fair to blame that all on the likes of Alfred Morris, Rob Kelley, and Matt Jones, but McVay certainly hasn’t coached a back as talented as Todd Gurley in his NFL time thus far. McVay’s first task should be attempting to get Gurley back on track, because everything the Rams do will build off of that. McVay showed an affinity for some power-gap run concepts with Washington, which will suit Gurley very well. But his most important task will be to make second-year QB Jared Goff comfortable. Goff looked horrendous as a rookie, but playing in a restricted offense behind a miserable offensive line did not help. Those who believed in Goff pre-draft certainly would view him as more gifted than Cousins, even if they might succeed in similar ways offensively. At its roots, McVay’s offense is built on deception and motion, making defenders think just a blink too long, and leaving receivers open. This is also good news for the Ram TEs (Tyler Higbee?) and especially WR Tavon Austin, who has been one of the least-efficient players at his position in the entire NFL in his career. McVay specifically mentioned Austin as a player he must get the most out of at his introductory press conference, and that certainly would be a big help to Goff. McVay will call plays for the Rams, as he did with Washington the last two seasons.
About LaFleur: LaFleur is only 37, but that makes him six years older than his new boss, Sean McVay. However, the two have already worked together in their brief time in the NFL, as LaFleur was Washington’s QB coach from 2010-2013, when McVay was the TE coach. Over the last two seasons, LaFleur has served under Kyle Shanahan as the Falcons’ QB coach. That perhaps gives a hint to what McVay is looking to do offensively with the Rams. Like Shanahan, McVay has shown an affinity for formational versatility, misdirection, and motion. LaFleur will absolutely have insight into how to build an explosive passing game off of an explosive run game, and though RB Todd Gurley is coming off a disappointing season, he’s easily the most appealing offensive piece McVay and LaFleur inherit in Los Angeles. In addition to that, it’ll be an easy sell for second-year QB Jared Goff to buy in – after all, Matt Ryan had an MVP season in 2016. The Rams are absolutely making the correct move in building a staff with experience working with QBs, something they desperately lacked under Jeff Fisher. Goff is coming off a horrendous rookie season, but if he’s going to rebuild his career, this is great situation for him, at least in terms of support system.
About Phillips: By the time Ram HC Sean McVay was born in January of 1986, Phillips had already been an NFL coach for 10 seasons, including a stint as the interim head coach for the Saints in 1985. Since then, Phillips has just built his reputation as one of the greatest defensive minds in the history of the league. Phillips finally got his Super Bowl ring as the Broncos’ defensive coordinator in 2015, and it was much deserved. Rams fans should be extremely excited about Phillips. In his last 11 years as either a head coach or defensive coordinator, Phillips has coached 10 top-10 defensive units in total yardage, including the #1 overall Bronco defense in 2015, and the #2 overall defense with the Texans in 2011. He won’t have to do too much to improve the Rams – though in general they disappointed at times in 2016, former DC Gregg Williams’ unit still ranked 9th in total yardage (23rd in scoring was the reason for the disappointment). The big question is if Phillips will be able to adjust his typical 3-4 to the Rams’ personnel. We don’t think Phillips will have an issue; while he does prefer a 3-4, the Rams’ attacking defensive line of players like Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald are primarily one-gap players, and Phillips adjusts the base two-gap 3-4 to attack with one-gap philosophies. The key may be convincing Quinn to stand up, and given Phillips’ success, we doubt Quinn will have an issue doing so. The Rams have some key free agents in the secondary, however, and we’d think Phillips will have input in that department as well.
About Downing: The Raiders allowed the contract of former OC Bill Musgrave to expire despite Musgrave coaching QB Derek Carr to a career year, and the Raiders owning the #6 overall offense in the NFL. However, Musgrave had developed a reputation for being a little conservative in big spots, and the Raiders felt like they’d be getting an upgrade if they let Musgrave walk and simply promoted Downing, their QB coach of the last two years. Just 36 years old, Downing is yet another member of an off-season that saw a ton of young offensive minds get either hired away or promoted on their current teams. Downing will be in a position to call plays for the first time in his NFL career, but he’s been a QB coach in the NFL for the last eight years, with the Lions, Bills, and Raiders. And he is noted for his close relationship with Carr, so it’s highly unlikely the Raiders will be installing new terminology. What the Raiders are looking for with Downing is a little bit less predictability and a little more aggressiveness. Given Musgrave’s spotty reputation, we’ll consider the promotion of Downing a positive one for Carr, Amari Cooper, and the Raiders.
San Francisco 49ers
About Shanahan: It’s fair to argue that Chip Kelly didn’t exactly get a fair shake in San Francisco. While Kelly went 2-14 in his only year with the 49ers, he was also coaching one of the single worst rosters in the NFL (and arguably the worst). But Kelly’s shtick had grown stale as well, as his constant repetition of concepts and formations had allowed teams to catch up to his attack (though, to be fair, Kelly had solid success with an offense that featured little more than Carlos Hyde). Shanahan is going to be the opposite for fans used to watching Kelly’s offense. Though Shanahan’s run foundation is the outside zone, which will suit Hyde well, his formational versatility will look extreme compared to Kelly. Shanahan is a master of making run plays look like pass plays and vice versa, and he used it to its utmost effectiveness this past season in Atlanta, when he coached the #1 scoring offense in the NFL. Shanahan has been an offensive coordinator for the last nine years. In terms of yardage, he has coached a top-10 offense six times, and only once (Cleveland in 2014… go figure) did he coach an offense outside the top 20 in total yardage. In the last five seasons – as OC for Washington, Cleveland, and Atlanta – Shanahan has coached four top-10 offenses. In addition to his brilliant scheming, Shanahan is also incredibly adaptable. He was part of the magical rookie season for Robert Griffin III in 2012, and he coached Matt Ryan to an MVP season in 2016. Still just 37, there’s a fantastic future ahead of Shanahan if he can translate his success to a head job. It’s been speculated that Shanahan has been abrasive in head coaching interviews before, which is one reason he hasn’t landed a head job until now. In fact, new 49er GM John Lynch said on a FOX broadcast this past season that occasionally Shanahan comes off as “arrogant,” which Lynch went on to praise. But there’s no denying that what Shanahan does works – working under his father Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak means Shanahan has worked under two of the best offensive minds in the NFL the last 30 years. And though the 49er roster remains weak, Shanahan and Lynch will be working together to build it from the ground up. The Niners must start at the QB position – will they bring back Colin Kaepernick? Will Shanahan bring in vet Matt Schaub to “install” his offense? Will the Niners use their #2 overall pick on a rookie, or will they trade for someone? There are a lot of questions to answer here, especially since Shanahan is expected to serve as his own offensive coordinator (with former Falcon assistant Mike McDaniel as “run game guru,” according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport) but San Francisco clearly made the splashiest hire of the coaching cycle.
About Saleh: Shanahan is going with a little bit of familiarity at the DC position. Having coached under Dan Quinn in Atlanta, it appears that Shanahan will continue to see Quinn’s Seattle/Atlanta system on the other side of the ball. Saleh is a young coach (38) who spent the last three years serving under Gus Bradley in Jacksonville as linebackers coach. He also coached one year under Quinn, serving as the defensive quality control coach when Quinn was DC in Seattle in 2013. Shanahan also knows Saleh personally from their time together in Houston, where Saleh served as a defensive quality control coach and assistant LBs coach from 2006-2010. It’s fair to assume, given Saleh’s recent experience, that he prefers the four-man rush concepts and Cover-3 base of the Seattle system. The 49ers’ roster is devoid of talent, but at least Saleh has some on the DL and in the secondary, which is where his expected system needs talent the most. He should be able to shape his defense to his wants, especially since the Niners have so few foundation players.
About Cavanaugh: Washington went from new Ram HC Sean McVay to someone nearly twice McVay’s age at offensive coordinator in Cavanaugh. And Cavanaugh, who was Washington’s QB coach for the last two seasons, comes with no shortage of experience in the NFL. A former NFL QB, Cavanaugh has been an offensive coordinator for eight seasons in the NFL, most recently with the Ravens from 1999 through 2004, when he won a Super Bowl championship on Brian Billick’s staff. Cavanaugh’s history as an OC is spotty at best – only once in his eight seasons has his team finished in the top half in yards gained in the league. However, Cavanaugh was promoted simply to keep things going along the path they’ve been going, and while Kirk Cousins can be criticized, there’s no doubt that Jay Gruden and McVay had gotten Cousins to play to the utmost potential of his abilities the last two years. Given Cavanaugh was Cousins’ QB coach for those two seasons, it makes complete sense that he got the call as the new OC. However, Cavanaugh will not be calling plays – Gruden will go back to doing so after McVay handled the duties for the last two seasons. We expect Cousins (a free agent) to be back, and with Gruden returning to calling plays, we don’t expect the Washington offense to change too much.
About Manusky: Unlike a lot of other teams around the NFL this year, Washington’s coordinator hires are both experienced minds. Manusky spent last season as the outside linebackers coach with the Redskins, and was promoted from within following the firing of Joe Barry. Prior to his one season with Washington, Manusky spent nine seasons as a defensive coordinator in the NFL – four with the 49ers, one with the Chargers, and most recently four with the Colts (2012 to 2015). Statistically, Manusky’s record is spotty. He has never coached a top-10 defense, but he did manage to coax a #11 ranking out of the Colts in 2014, by far the best defense Indianapolis had in the Chuck Pagano/Ryan Grigson era. And Manusky is clearly well respected by people where it counts, as he was the 49ers’ defensive coordinator from 2007 through 2010, during which he overlapped with Redskin GM Scot McCloughan’s tenure as San Francisco GM. Unfortunately, it appears Manusky was not Washington’s first choice. The club wanted to interview Gus Bradley, Wade Phillips, and Steve Wilks, but each coach took a DC job elsewhere. While Manusky’s promotion allows some continuity from the Barry era, Washington’s defense has been a big disappointment in Gruden’s years as head coach. That means that while Manusky may keep Washington’s hybrid 3-4 scheme in tact, some critical changes are needed. Manusky is regarded as a coach for whom players like to play, and he acknowledged his #1 task as the DC in Washington is to prevent the too-common communication breakdowns of the last few seasons, in addition to stopping the run far better. Expect any change Manusky makes to start there – in the middle of the trenches.