The NFL prides itself on its parity and competitiveness, but it certainly feels like this season features a vaster gulf than normal between the bottom barrel teams and the actually competent teams. It's not like the 2019 season hasn't produced its fair share of surprising success stories (from the Lions and 49ers to the Kyle Allen-led Panthers and the Gardner Minshew-led Jaguars) or competitive football games, it's just that, it feels like the terrible teams are more terrible than usual and there's more of them too.
There are good teams and there are bad teams. Then there is 50 feet of crap. And then there's the winless Dolphins, the winless Redskins, the winless Bengals, and the winless Jets.
The immediate result has been weekly blowouts featuring the teams listed above. The eventual result will be an intriguing (and competitive, in a sense) race for the top pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. In between now and then, it'll result in the loss of jobs.
The process has already started. Black Monday came especially early for Redskins coach Jay Gruden. On Monday, Oct. 7, the Redskins fired their coach of five-plus seasons after a 26-point loss to the Patriots dropped their record to 0-5 this year and 35-49-1 under Gruden since he took the job in 2014. As we discussed on Monday morning's edition of the Pick Six Podcast, the Redskins' 0-5 record was not a direct reflection of Gruden's coaching level. The Redskins had far bigger issues than Gruden. He wasn't their biggest problem and firing him won't magically fix a perpetually broken franchise. But this is the NFL. It's a results-oriented business and well, the results have been lacking under Gruden for a while now. He won't be the last coach to get fired for failing to win with a depleted roster.
With that in mind, even though Week 5 only just ended and a dozen more weeks remain until Black Monday arrives, as the bottom dwellers really begin to fall even farther behind the rest of the pack, now seems to be as good of a time as ever to check in on the temperature levels of maligned coaches around the league.
The last time we checked in before the season, Gruden and Dan Quinn occupied two of the hottest seats. In that sense, not much has changed. But there have been some surprising developments. Lions coach Matt Patricia is unlisted after a 2-1-1 start to the season. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan is safe after going 4-0 to begin the year. And after ripping off wins in Weeks 1-3, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is definitely -- wait a minute, the Cowboys have gone 0-2 since then, so never mind about that.
Anyway, onto the rankings ...
Tier 4: First-year coaches probably safe
All of these coaches should make it to Year 2, but given just how bad all of their teams are, none of them are entirely safe.
12. Dolphins' Brian Flores
With an 0-4 record and an average margin of defeat of 34.3 points, the Dolphins are the worst team in football and have been the front-runners to wind up with the first-overall pick all season long, but the difference between the Dolphins and every other team on this list is that they're actively trying to be bad in 2019 -- their roster decisions tell the story. After purging an already bad roster of most of their remaining talent, the Dolphins are embracing the tank. Thus, Flores shouldn't be blamed for the results this season.
That said, because the Dolphins really are 0-16 levels of bad, Flores has to at least appear on this list, even if he doesn't deserve to be fired and likely won't be as the Dolphins enter the beginning stages of their rebuild -- something that was needed long before Flores arrived. He didn't create the problem, so he at least deserves a real chance to fix it. He'll probably get it.
11. Cardinals' Kliff Kingsbury
A loss to the Bengals on Sunday would've been troublesome for Kingsbury after a 0-3-1 start to the season, but the Cardinals left Cincinnati with a narrow win to improve to 1-3-1. The key for Kingsbury is how No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray looks in his offense. After the team drafted Murray and traded last year's first-round quarterback Josh Rosen, it's fair to say Kingsbury's future is tied to Murray's development. So far, Murray is completing 62.7 percent of his passes, averaging 6.6 yards per attempt, and has thrown for four touchdowns, four interceptions, and an 80.1 passer rating. He's added 206 yards (7.4 yards per attempt) and two touchdowns on the ground. Those aren't great numbers, but the moments of brilliance are there. At this stage in his career, Murray is developing just fine. Assuming it doesn't all come crashing down, that should be enough for Kingsbury to make it to Year 2 in Arizona.
10. Bengals' Zac Taylor
The major difference between the Bengals and the Dolphins is that the Dolphins are trying to be bad. The Bengals are not. Even still, the Bengals are 0-5 with a negative-56 point differential. Taylor, an offensive-minded coach, has the Bengals offense -- down multiple players due to injury, it should be noted -- scoring only 16 points per game.
So, why isn't Taylor ranked higher? For one, this Bengals roster isn't very good, so it's hard to blame Taylor alone for their winless start to the season. If anything, the Bengals will probably give Taylor the chance to develop a young quarterback that they should be able to acquire with a high pick in next year's draft. Secondly, the Bengals probably don't want to fire a first-year coach after they stuck by Marvin Lewis for 16 seasons, none of which resulted in a playoff win. Taylor will probably get a second year. The Bengals are not a franchise that features one-and-done head coaches.
9. Broncos' Vic Fangio
Talk about a terrible start to a coaching career. Fangio first got stuck with Joe Flacco as his starting quarterback. Then he got kidney stones before his first-ever preseason game as a head coach. Then he lost his first four games -- two of which came by the thinnest of margins. Finally, though, Fangio got on the board with a thorough win over the Chargers in Los Angeles on Sunday. The Broncos look like a team that's better than their record indicates, so don't be surprised if they avoid the type of season that can result in a first-year coach getting fired. But any first-year coach at 1-4 is sitting on a warm seat. If John Elway -- who deserves to be fired more than any Broncos coach -- decides he wants an offensive-minded coach to spearhead Drew Lock's development, Fangio could go one-and-done.
Tier 3: Safe for now
None of these coaches are at risk of losing their jobs in the next few weeks. They probably won't get fired before the end of the season. Most of them probably won't get fired on Black Monday. But nobody can claim all of their jobs are 100% guaranteed for next season. It's not difficult to conjure up a scenario for all five of them that results in their dismal at the end of the season. Everything would need to go wrong, but sometimes in football, everything does go wrong.
8. Chargers' Anthony Lynn
Even though they're banged up -- as is always the case for this franchise -- the Chargers have underperformed through five weeks at 2-3. Their seven-point home loss to Denver really wasn't as close as the final scoreline indicated. Just ask Lynn:
Anthony Lynn on loss: "Sorry for watching that damn game. We play like that, we won't beat anybody. That team came here more desperate for a win, played harder, out-coached us. It was disappointing. But we have a resilient group, I think. We'll see how we respond next week."— Eric Williams (@eric_d_williams) October 7, 2019
Do I think Lynn will get fired? Nope. He's gone 23-14 as Chargers coach and he took them to the playoffs last season. But the Chargers entered the season with expectations to emerge as a contender in the AFC. They don't look anything like a contender so far. They look like a mistake-prone, poorly run team that is intentionally trying to squander their talented roster.
If the Chargers were to go 6-10 or so, Lynn would be in the danger zone. But this Chargers team is still talented enough to rip off wins the remainder of the way and make the playoffs as a wild card team, so nobody should be dismissing them yet. Lynn should be at least safe for the remainder of the season.
7. Steelers' Mike Tomlin
At 1-4, the Steelers are stuck in the suck, but it's not really Tomlin's fault. Most coaches deserve a pass when they lose their starting quarterback. That rule especially applies to Tomlin, who lost his future Hall of Fame quarterback. Firing a coach who entered the season sporting a 125-66-1 record in the regular season with eight playoff appearances in 12 years, one of which resulted in a championship, another of which resulted in a Super Bowl appearance, would be both unfair and unwise -- even if the coach in question does have some flaws.
But Tomlin is staring at his second-straight playoff-less season as the Steelers begin to transition to a new era of football without Ben Roethlisberger, who plans to keep playing but will be 38 when next season begins. Tomlin's dismissal is not entirely out of the question, even if it's unlikely. Plus, there have been some recent rumblings about the Redskins wanting to trade for Tomlin.
I firmly believe that Dan Snyder's primary objective in his next coaching hire will be to find a way to acquire Mike Tomlin from the Steelers. We'll see how feasible that may be— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) October 7, 2019
So, there's a chance Tomlin could leave Pittsburgh without getting (unfairly) fired.
6. Cowboys' Jason Garrett
When the Cowboys raced out to a 3-0 start, it certainly felt like an extension for Garrett -- coaching in the final year of his deal -- was inevitable. Dak Prescott was playing like a legitimate MVP candidate under new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. And the Cowboys won their first three games by an average margin of 17.7 points.
But then the Cowboys dropped their next two games against actually good teams, Prescott threw four interceptions in those losses, left tackle Tyron Smith got hurt along the way, and now we're left wondering if the Cowboys' hot start to the season was more about their level of competition and less about any major improvements they made.
You know Garrett is frustrated when he does this:
LMAO pic.twitter.com/qptF3AZkoC— Steve Noah (@Steve_OS) October 6, 2019
Garrett-bot 40000 just malfunctioned and allowed a show of emotion?— Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) October 6, 2019
It's still tough to believe that Jerry Jones would get rid of Garrett, but if the Cowboys' season continues to go south, he could just let his contract expire. It does, however, feel like it would require a total 6-10 type of collapse for the Cowboys to severe ties with Garrett. And the Cowboys don't appear to be a 6-10 team.
5. Giants' Pat Shurmur
Shurmur only arrived in New York last year, he hasn't had much to work with, and he's an offensive-minded coach developing a rookie quarterback. All three of those factors give him a decent chance of surviving the 2019 season. But then again, in recent years, we've seen a ton of coaches get fired after unsuccessfully working with rookie quarterbacks. Hue Jackson got fired during Baker Mayfield's rookie season. The Jets fired Todd Bowles after his first year with Sam Darnold. The Bears didn't let John Fox stick around for Mitchell Trubisky's second season. Jeff Fisher got fired by the Rams during Jared Goff's rookie year. Lovie Smith was canned by the Buccaneers before Jameis Winston's second season. The Titans sacked Ken Whisenhunt before the end of Marcus Mariota's rookie season.
Again, the fact that Shurmur is an offensive-minded coach bodes well for his chances to see out Daniel Jones' development. The key is, even if the Giants continue losing games, Shurmur needs to demonstrate he's the right coach to lead Jones' development. If Jones struggles during the remainder of the season, the Giants could decide to move on from Shurmur so they don't waste Jones' second season. I'm guessing he'll survive to see the 2020 season in New York largely because Jones has already shown glimpses of promise.
4. Jaguars' Doug Marrone
Marrone entered the season on the hot seat after the Jaguars failed to meet expectations last year. When the Jaguars lost starting quarterback Nick Foles to a season-ending injury in Week 1, Marrone appeared to be a dead man walking. But then, Gardner Minshew emerged as an actually good starting quarterback and suddenly, the Jaguars are very much alive in AFC South even after a narrow loss to the Panthers dropped them to 2-3. It just feels like Marrone (18-21 as the Jaguars' coach) is at the point where another playoff-less season could result in his departure from Jacksonville.
Tier 2: First-year coaches under fire
Most first-year coaches don't get fired. Most first-year coaches don't deserve to get fired. But it does happen from time to time when a first-year coach experiences a disaster. Just ask Steve Wilks.
3. Jets' Adam Gase
I get it. Gase has been dealt a terrible hand. He was brought in to develop second-year quarterback Sam Darnold and before he really had the chance to do exactly that, Darnold caught mono, forcing the Jets -- after backup Trevor Siemian also got hurt -- to start Luke Falk at quarterback, who, like Minshew, went to Washington State, but unlike Minshew, is not good. That's a legitimate excuse Gase can exercise.
But the Jets offense, under an alleged quarterback guru and offensive mastermind, has been pathetic. They're averaging 9.8 points. Twenty-two of their 39 points have come via defensive and special teams scores (not counting field goals), which means their offense is averaging 4.3 points. They've scored two offensive touchdowns all season. Two!
Again, Gase has been dealt a 2 and 7 off suit (a Texas hold'em reference that I hope is not dated). But it's not as if he's handled the situation well. Before the Jets' Week 5 loss to the Eagles, NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported that Darnold, whose status was in doubt during the week leading up to the game, received all of the first-team reps on Wednesday and Thursday, which means Falk only got one day of practice in with the starters.
"Falk has told those close to him, 'This would break some men, but not me,'" Garafolo reported on Sunday.
Gase is the same coach who posted a 23-25 record with the Dolphins from 2016-18. During Gase's tenure in Miami, the Dolphins were outscored by 243 points. Even his 10-6 season that led to a playoff berth resulted in a point differential of minus-17. The point being, he was lucky to depart Miami with a 23-25 record. It very easily could've gone worse.
He won 23 games in three seasons— Sean Wagner-McGough (@seanjwagner) February 5, 2019
His offenses finished 14th, 27th, and 26th by DVOA. If Gase is so good at designing offenses and calling plays, why do most of his offenses suck? It's partially due to the quarterbacks he's worked with, but at some point, Gase himself deserves blame. At some point, it's worth asking: If Gase really does sleep fewer than four hours a night in order to work, as has been reported, why? Does he really need to work 20-hour days to come up with different variations of swing passes on third-and-long?
Adam Gase’s offense summed up with one picture. pic.twitter.com/MaaZz9xxfN— Sean Wagner-McGough (@seanjwagner) September 17, 2019
Good thing Adam Gase stayed up all night every night to script that opening series!— Sean Wagner-McGough (@seanjwagner) September 17, 2019
Said this on today’s @picksixpod: Gase works 20-hour days, consumes an insane amount of caffeine, and keeps a file for every day he has been a coach all so he can dial up screens and dumpoffs on third-and-7. Being this blah should not require nearly as much work as Gase puts in. https://t.co/O4QmMxbYOL— Sean Wagner-McGough (@seanjwagner) September 9, 2019
This is what his fate will come down to: how Darnold looks when he returns. Because if Darnold ascends under Gase after an inconsistent, but promising rookie season, then Gase's job will be safe regardless of the Jets' record. But if the Jets' offense fails to improve with Darnold under center, there's no point in keeping Gase around.
I'm betting Darnold won't ascend under Gase. But I'll admit, I'm not sure if the Jets will be wise enough to cut bait with Gase before he gets another season to work with Darnold.
2. Browns' Freddie Kitchens
This is all about the Browns' performance compared to the expectations they carried into the season. The Browns were considered, by many, to be the best team in the AFC North after adding Odell Beckham in the offseason. They were supposed to be a contender. Even though the Bengals are a dumpster fire, the Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger, and the Ravens have been unimpressive since their 2-0 start against inferior opponents, the Browns don't look anything like a contender -- with their latest debacle in primetime on Monday night serving as yet another example.
Most concerning is how Baker Mayfield has fared under Kitchens, who only got the job because Mayfield and the Browns' offense exploded under him last season once they finally rid themselves of Hue Jackson. Mayfield has taken a step back in his development. If that continues over the course of the season and if the Browns can't qualify for the postseason via a weak division, Kitchens could be out of a job after only one season in charge.
This is 100% on Kitchens, period. If Hue was still there, we’d all be calling for his head.— Ben Gretch (@YardsPerGretch) October 8, 2019
What could be problematic is that they get the Seahawks and Patriots in their next two games. They need to go 1-1. Otherwise, things could unravel quickly.
Tier 1: Dead man walking
At this point, it would take a remarkable turnaround for this coach to save his job.
1. Falcons' Dan Quinn
It's partly about the Falcons' 1-4 record, which has them in last place in a division composed of two teams that are starting backup quarterbacks and another team that is starting Jameis Winston. But it's mostly about the Falcons' defense. Quinn got the Falcons' job back in 2015 because of the work he did as the Seahawks' defensive coordinator. Only once has his Falcons defense finished in the top-10 in either points or yards allowed. Last year, the Falcons' defense ranked 28th in yards and 25th in points allowed. This year, they're giving up 30.4 points per game -- only one team has allowed more on a per-game basis. That team is the Dolphins.
The Falcons defense might as well line up like this on every snap. pic.twitter.com/tt1ms4XrW7— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) October 7, 2019
That Falcons defense is a comedy troupe. Vic Beasley jumping took me out. pic.twitter.com/KYtgKxQDvo— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) October 7, 2019
That Falcons defense is a comedy troupe. Vic Beasley jumping took me out. pic.twitter.com/KYtgKxQDvo— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) October 7, 2019
lol i’m watching and every ten seconds i’m like pic.twitter.com/CAQVfgKL5K— Mina Kimes (@minakimes) October 7, 2019
"Obviously, the coaching is not where it needs to be," Falcons owner Arthur Blank told ESPN after their most recent loss. "They're challenging themselves, questioning themselves, examining everything they know how to examine. That's all they can do is work really hard at it, take this as seriously as they can, and feel the pain."
Blank also indicated that Quinn isn't in danger of losing his job right now. But the Falcons fired their top assistants in the offseason. So there's no one left to fire except Quinn himself. Assuming the Falcons continue along at their current trajectory, it's unlikely Quinn survives to see the 2020 season in Atlanta. It's becoming increasingly difficult to make the argument he deserves to stay. Despite Blank's recent comments, Quinn might not even get the chance to go down with the ship.