The best pure football job in the NFL came open this week when Ted
Thompson either stepped down or was pushed out from his position as
general manager of the Green Bay Packers.
Nothing in the league comes close to that job, not just because of
the history of the franchise, but because of the freedom that comes
with it. Because of the Packers’ unique situation as the league’s
only publicly owned franchise, the general manager has wide
latitude to make decisions on his own, and is not subject to the
whim of a mercurial owner.
For sure, there is still a power structure there, but former NFL
safety Mark Murphy, the team president, is not known as either
trigger-happy or power-hungry. If there was any push, it more than
likely came from head coach Mike McCarthy, who has wanted the
Packers to make more of an effort in free agency. Thompson
preferred building through the draft.
Nonetheless, Green Bay has had just two general managers — and
just three losing seasons, including 2017 — in more than 25 years,
the kind of stability and success many teams can only dream about.
Most of the attention this time of year, outside the playoff teams,
of course, falls on those posting the help-wanted ads to attract a
new head coach. On the day after the regular season ended, there
were six teams in search of leadership. Although the NFL has a
supposed level playing field, with most of the league’s revenue
divided equally among the teams, and the players under a salary cap
that gives each team the same limit on how much it can pay, there
is much that is unequal.
One of the biggest things that is unequal is the attractiveness of
the coaching jobs. Here’s a ranking, 1-to-6, of the vacant coaching
1. New York Giants. The Giants face a major rebuilding job because
their quarterback, Eli Manning, is 37 years old, has been fairly
mediocre for several years, and the roster is riddled with holes.
They are also in a very competitive division facing three division
opponents with established, yet relatively young, No. 1
So why would anybody want this job? Why is it attractive? Because
it’s New York. Because it’s a highly visible franchise with a
history of success and ownership that ranks among the league’s most
solid. The Giants do not make knee-jerk reactions. They don’t
follow the latest trend. Their new general manager, Dave Gettleman,
is not one of those flavor-of-the-month hires; he will be 67 years
old in February.
2. Detroit. The Lions historically have been one of the most
patient teams in the league. Only one coach in 40 years was fired
after two seasons. Yet Jim Caldwell, their most recent coach, was
given four years, had two playoff teams, a 36-30 record, and was
fired even though he was the Lions’ first full-time coach since Joe
Schmidt (last year, 1972) to compile a winning record. It’s safe to
say owner Martha Firestone Ford does not have the patience of her
late husband Bill Ford.
There is some talent in Detroit and quarterback Matthew Stafford is
certainly good enough to win with. The problem for the Lions, and
their next coach, is to make that talent more consistent. This
season, Detroit won on the road at Minnesota and swept nemesis
Green Bay, but was eliminated from playoff contention by a
late-season defeat to Cincinnati, which likely sealed Caldwell’s
3. Oakland. Talent-wise, the Raiders may be in the best shape of
all the teams hiring new coaches. They still have the young nucleus
that led to a 12-4 record just a year ago, including quarterback
Derek Carr and stud defensive end Khalil Mack, the 2016 NFL
Defensive Player of the Year. The drawback here is the team’s
nomadic state as the Raiders prepare for their move to Las Vegas.
The Raiders do not lack for distractions.
In 2017, the Raiders were a trendy pick for the Super Bowl in some
quarters but after a strong, 2-0 start, were beaten decisively by
Washington in their third game and never seemed to regain their
footing. For a franchise that for years lived by Al Davis’
long-ball mantra, Oakland never developed a consistent long-ball
game, ranking 24th in the league in average yards per completion.
Carr’s average per pass attempt in 2017 was a full yard off his
2016 figure. Assuming Jon Gruden is the next head coach, his charge
will be not only to get more yardage, but also to be more
4. Indianapolis. This could be a really good job if history repeats
itself and Andrew Luck comes back healthy in 2018. Remember, it was
just a few years ago that Peyton Manning, considerably older than
Luck (29 next season), of course, missed a full season due to
injury, but not only returned, he came back at an extremely high
level — posting three of the five highest passer ratings of his
career at ages 36, 37 and 38.
Nonetheless, it will be up to general manager Chris Ballard to
improve a defense that has ranked better than 20th in the league
just once in the last eight years. So far, he has not shown he can
5. Chicago. The Bears’ last two coaches didn’t really have a chance
because the franchise allowed a terrific defense to grow too old.
Under former head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic
Fangio, the rebuild began in earnest and, in 2017, Chicago ranked
10th in the NFL in defense, its best since Lovie Smith’s final
season in 2012.
Now the task will be to improve on that showing while developing
quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the second player chosen in the
draft last year. Trubisky showed flashes, but suffered, among other
reasons, from a lack of talent around him, especially among
6. Arizona. This is not unlike Detroit, except the Cardinals need a
quarterback to replace Carson Palmer, who announced his retirement.
Bruce Arians, who also retired, was the Cardinals’ first coach to
leave with a winning record since Don Coryell 40 years ago.
Furthermore, the Cards are faced with the difficulty of competing
against improving division opponents. Seattle (Russell Wilson, 29
years old), the Rams (Jared Goff, 23) and the 49ers (Jimmy
Garoppolo, 26) all look to be set at quarterback for the long term.
Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the
National Football League for more than five decades and is a member
of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a
national columnist for The Sports Xchange.