Commentary

Expect plenty of coaching changes

After last season's relative calm, turbulence is definitely in the forecast

Originally Published: December 31, 2010
By Adam Schefter | ESPN.com

When only three NFL teams changed head coaches after last season, it ensured one thing after this season.

Blood will flow.

A look back at the past decade reveals that seasons when there are few changes are followed by plenty the next. After the 2004 season, only three teams changed head coaches (Cleveland, Miami and San Francisco); the next season 10 did. After the 2007 season, only four teams changed head coaches (Atlanta, Baltimore, Miami and Washington); the next season, 11 did.

After last season, only three teams changed head coaches (Buffalo, Seattle and Washington). Get ready for a messy couple of weeks, starting Sunday night, the moment the regular season ends.

Despite the fact that the NFL's labor questions make it more complicated to change coaches, and decreases the chances that some teams will make changes, some owners cannot help themselves. Change is coming -- maybe even double-digit changes.

Five teams -- Carolina, Dallas, Minnesota, Denver and San Francisco -- already have begun the process of changing coaches. Two more -- Cincinnati and Oakland -- have coaches in the final year of their contracts, though the Raiders' Tom Cable has an option that the Raiders could exercise. Speculation surrounds jobs in Cleveland, Jacksonville, Houston, Miami, New York (Giants), San Diego and Tennessee. Almost every year, there is a head-coaching change that comes out of nowhere, like a Sal Alosi knee.

What happens Sunday could influence exactly how many changes ultimately will be made. The numbers can be debated, but many expect as many as 10 changes.

One point that cannot be discounted after a season in which only three teams changed head coaches: This league doesn't sit still, especially for two years in a row.

On to this week's 10 Spot:

1. Overlooked coaching candidates: As teams search for new head coaches, they should be reminded that big names aren't always the best candidates. When New Orleans hired Sean Payton and Green Bay hired Mike McCarthy in 2006, they were almost afterthoughts in many places around the league. The Falcons were praised in 2007 for hiring Bobby Petrino while the Steelers were questioned for hiring Mike Tomlin. When Atlanta hired Mike Smith and Baltimore chose John Harbaugh in 2008, little fanfare surrounded their hirings, and most of the attention centered on Jason Garrett, then the Cowboys' offensive coordinator. In 2009, Denver's hiring of Josh McDaniels and Seattle's landing of Jim Mora generated more attention than Kansas City's choice of Todd Haley and St. Louis' selection of Steve Spagnuolo. Tampa Bay's firing of Jon Gruden attracted more attention than the hiring of little-known assistant Raheem Morris. The point is, the bigger name is not always the better coach. Sometimes, the lesser-known coach makes the bigger impact.

2. Meanwhile, at quarterback …: As wildly as the coaching carousel will start spinning Sunday night, the quarterback carousel could present even more intrigue. A minimum of six teams will be in the quarterback market, and there could be another legitimate half-dozen teams interested in changing QBs as well. Every team in the NFC West with the exception of St. Louis will be looking to upgrade at quarterback. Miami, Minnesota and Washington also will be searching. Carolina, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Tennessee, Jacksonville and Buffalo could be in the market. The problem goes back to Adam Smith, to supply and demand. There's a great demand, but no great supply. Washington would be willing to trade Donovan McNabb, Cincinnati might be enticed to entertain offers for Carson Palmer, Denver could be convinced to deal Kyle Orton, and Ravens backup Marc Bulger is scheduled to become a free agent. But short of Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Jake Locker, there aren't many places for teams to turn. Teams looking for quarterbacks are going to be looking beyond this season.

3. Little QB help in draft: Should Luck stay at Stanford -- and many suspect he will -- teams that need quarterbacks are going to have a hard time finding one who can help next season. If Luck stays in school, it will leave a draft that is top heavy in stud defenders. According to ESPN draft expert Todd McShay, the four top prospects after Luck are all defensive players and all underclassmen. The four players who could be among the first four picks are Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, and North Carolina defensive end/linebacker Robert Quinn. What's notable is that each of the teams now projected with top-five picks -- Carolina, Denver, Cincinnati, Buffalo and Arizona -- has major defensive needs. So it's possible there will be an early run on defensive underclassmen.

4. Patriots' rare accomplishment: What New England accomplished in 2007, when it won all its regular-season games and scored a single-season record 589 points, was historic. What it has done this season is every bit as impressive in its own way. This season, in what might be the stat of the year, the Patriots have turned over the football only nine times -- two more than the Buffalo Bills did against New England last Sunday. The Patriots now have gone seven straight games without a turnover. What makes New England's mark even more startling is that the NFL record for fewest turnovers in any season is 12, which the Chiefs accomplished during the nine-game strike-shortened 1982 season. Should New England take care of the football Sunday at home against Miami, it will shatter Kansas City's single-season record over the course of a full 16-game season and produce a mark as memorable as many set in the 2007 season.

[+] EnlargeRonnie Brown
Mark Zerof/US PresswireJust 30 yards rushing against New England could pay off for Miami's Ronnie Brown.
5. Incentive to run: Miami might not be playing for anything Sunday against New England, but Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown sure is. Brown has a clause in his contract that calls for him to make a $500,000 incentive this season if he rushes for 750 yards, based on information obtained through NFL Players Association documents. Brown now is at 720 yards, well within range of his incentive. So if Brown can rush for a measly 30 yards Sunday, he would cash in on a cool half-million -- a nice present for a player who is scheduled to become a free agent but will have to wait for a new collective bargaining agreement before there is free agency. While teams have magic numbers on this final day of the regular season, so does Brown.

6. Wait until next year: There are many reasons football has passed baseball as this country's national pastime, but one of the biggest is that, year after year, no matter how much a franchise has struggled, it has hope to reach the playoffs. For the 15th consecutive season, five or more teams will qualify for the playoffs that were not in the postseason the year before. It speaks to how unstable and unpredictable the league actually is. Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City and Pittsburgh failed to advance to the playoffs last season but already have done so this season. Depending on what happens Sunday, the Jaguars, Giants, Rams, Seahawks and Buccaneers each have a chance to qualify for the postseason when none of those teams made it last season. Next season, other NFL cities that have struggled this year will make the playoffs as well.

7. Don't expect reseeding soon: Should Seattle defeat St. Louis on Sunday night, the Seahawks will win the NFC West with a 7-9 record. But do not look for the NFL to reseed its playoff teams anytime soon. It hasn't when the proposal has come up twice in the past three years. Three years ago, the Jaguars introduced a proposal in which the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds would be upheld, but seeds Nos. 3-6 then would be reshuffled and sorted by record, not division. The proposal generated conversation and even got 18 votes. But the 18 is six short of the number of votes needed to have the rules rewritten. One competition committee member said last week, "This is one of those proposals that people have talked about, but sometimes it takes time." People around the league believe that the time is not now, despite the fact that a good NFC team will be left home while the NFC West winner is assured of hosting a playoff game.

Reggie Bush
Chuck Cook/US PresswireAfter he missed much of the season, Reggie Bush can expect the Saints to seek restructuring of his contract.
8. RB questions for Saints: New Orleans is trying to repeat as champion this season, but it is going to have to make some significant decisions next season. Running back Reggie Bush, who helped New Orleans win its first Super Bowl, is scheduled to make $11.3 million in base salary next season. Nobody around the league expects Bush's contract to stand the way it is, not with Bush being injured much of this season and rookie Chris Ivory developing into a reliable running back. After this season, Bush and the Saints will have to agree upon a restructured contract or New Orleans will have to release Bush. He is not the only running back in New Orleans whose future there is uncertain. Pierre Thomas, who missed the majority of this season with a torn tendon in his ankle, is scheduled to become a free agent after this season. If Thomas leaves, it would make bringing back Bush that much more important. But either way, the Saints have some significant running back questions.

9. Indy aims for record: Indianapolis is one win over Tennessee away from qualifying for the playoffs for the ninth straight season and tying the NFL record that the Dallas Cowboys set when they went to the postseason each season from 1975-'83. It also is one win away from its ninth 10-win season in a row, which would be the second-longest such streak in league history after San Francisco's 16 seasons of 10 or more wins from 1983-'98. The biggest difference in Indianapolis in recent weeks is the team's ability to run the football, something it was unable to do throughout the season. Joseph Addai has returned from injury, Dominic Rhodes has returned from exile, and the Colts have returned to the top of the AFC South after it looked for a bit as though Jacksonville might take the division title. As good as Peyton Manning is, the Colts still will need the type of rushing attack they've had the past two weeks against Jacksonville and Oakland, when they outrushed their opponents 346 yards to 147. If Addai and Rhodes are as formidable this postseason as they were in 2006, Indianapolis will pose a major threat to any AFC team. Just think of how well the Colts have done in seasons like this one in which they haven't rested their players at the end of the year.

10. A case of symmetry? Back in March 2004, Denver traded running back Clinton Portis to Washington for cornerback Champ Bailey and a second-round pick in the first blockbuster trade that involved two reigning Pro Bowl players since the Chargers traded quarterback John Hadl to the Rams for defensive tackle Coy Bacon after the 1972 season. Now, fittingly, Portis and Bailey look to be ending their runs with their teams at the same time. Portis is scheduled to make $8.25 million next season, a number the Redskins will be unwilling to pay. Coming off a concussion and a torn groin, Portis is considered old for a running back, even though he is only 29. He needs only 77 rushing yards for 10,000 in his NFL career, but they are not likely to come in Washington. Bailey is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after contract talks between him and Denver broke off this season. A heel injury may prevent him from playing what could be his final game Sunday, and chances are he will not return to Denver. And so one of the more high-profile NFL trades in recent memory is about to have the book on it closed.

The Schef's specialties

Game of the week: St. Louis at Seattle: A Sunday night game to decide who goes to the playoffs and who doesn't.

Player of the week: Jets running back Shonn Greene: His rushing totals have risen in each of the past three games and they look like they will again.

Upset of the week: Broncos over Chargers: Tim Tebow has silenced some of the skeptics and now he gets to make one final statement.

Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.