NFL Playoffs: Where Black Monday Meets "Black Sunday"

By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

January 7, 2013

Amid the cacophony of commentary surrounding Monday’s BCS National Championship Game between Alabama and Notre Dame—“The Biggest Game Ever,” the Wall Street Journal bleated on Friday—not yet fading is the chatter surrounding the annual upheaval marking the end of pro football’s regular season.

Fiscal Cliff, bah. You want economic drama? Try coaching in the NFL.

NFL coaches, coordinators, and increasingly, GMs, have about as much job security as a snow blower in April. This year seems especially turbulent—on Monday, no fewer than seven head coaches, five general managers, and a dozen or so more assistant coaches were let go by their NFL teams.

Now former Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid helmed that organization for 14 years, an eternity in the NFL, and took the Eagles to the Super Bowl. With 140 victories, Reid is the Eagle’s all-time winningest coach, but owner Jeffrey Lurie stated it was time for the team "to move in a new direction." Highly respected, the out-of-a-job Reid was immediately the top candidate for vacancies in both Arizona and Kansas City, where it looks like a deal is eminent for him to replace the oft-fired Romeo Crennel.

If Reid does indeed land in KC, his new job in a smaller market will include another consolation prize: first pick in April’s NFL Draft, thanks to the Chiefs’ league-worst 2-14 season.

The Chicago Bears’ Lovie Smith was dumped after a 10-win season. Jacksonville fired GM Gene Smith, the first major dismal for new Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, even though Smith was one of 10 remaining original Jaguars employees and had two years remaining on his contract. And the San Diego Chargers dismissed both 10-year general manager A.J. Smith, a draft wizard plagued by serial injuries to his picks, and head coach Norv Turner.

Turner is rumored to be joining the Jets as their offensive coordinator, meaning that he’ll work for a coach, Rex Ryan, who will likely be out of a job in a year if they can’t turn the struggling franchise around. Jets Owner Woody Johnson dismissed GM Mike Tannenbaum after 15 years with the franchise, so if he takes the job Turner is just hopping from one hot spot to another.

While the 2013 coaching musical chairs don’t quite match the pace of 2010, when 10 new NFL head coaches were put into place (almost 1/3 of the league), the bulk firings underscore the “what have you done for me today” attitude prevalent in the NFL, millions of dollars of contract money still owed be damned.

If a new coach isn’t a team’s quick fix a new quarterback usually is, and at least it’s a lot cheaper for NFL franchises to go this route than before the league’s current collective bargaining agreement went into place last year. The first round of the NFL Playoffs this weekend features a record three rookie quarterbacks: the Colts’ Andrew Luck, the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III (playing each other), and the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson. The rookies were all drafted under a new CBA that severely cut how much NFL teams can pay their top draft picks. The Wall Street Journal notes that Griffin, for example, is making just $3.8 million in 2012-2013, compared with the $15.6 million paid to Sam Bradford, the St. Louis Rams’ Number One overall draft pick in 2010.

Despite all the upheaval, the NFL Playoffs are indeed underway, and if there’s one lesson we can take away from the regular season besides the volatility of head coaches, it’s that money doesn’t guarantee happiness. The league’s most valuable team, the Dallas Cowboys at $2.1 billion, failed to qualify for the playoffs, as did the both New York teams, Chicago and Philadelphia. The least valuable team to make the postseason is the Atlanta Falcons, ranking 28th at $837 million. However, Atlanta is deep in negotiations to build a new stadium, so they’ll be much more valuable in the next few years.

Overall, the NFL’s business continues to prosper. The average franchise is worth $1.1 billion, up 7% from last year. The league has long-term labor peace with the new collective bargaining agreement signed last summer, and lucrative TV deals that extend into the next decade.

At least that’s some silver lining for the teams that missed this postseason, and for all of the coaches, resumes in hand, looking for lucrative new jobs.

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