As they move into the Frank Reich era, the Panthers have not fully transitioned from their Matt Rhule contract. Rhule hit the Panthers with a lawsuit recently, Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports reports.
The two-plus-season Panthers HC filed an arbitration suit last week, seeking severance money he alleges the team is refusing to pay. Rhule is seeking offset money from the Panthers, with Jones adding $5MM is believed to be in dispute here.
Now the coach at Nebraska, Rhule landed on his feet quickly. His deal with the Big Ten program is believed to offset much of the remaining money the Panthers owed him as part of their seven-year, $62MM contract agreed to in 2020. Roughly $34MM remained on Rhule’s Panthers contract at the time he was fired. Rhule signed an eight-year, $74MM deal with Nebraska in November.
Rhule’s Cornhuskers accord spikes in pay, going from $5.5MM in Year 1 up to $12.5MM down the road. His Panthers deal paid $8.5MM in each season, per Jones, who adds the Panthers are expected to argue Rhule’s Nebraska contract violates the NFL’s anti-tampering policy by including increases — between the base salary and other benefits — of more than 20%.
The policy stipulates such an increase would affect the Panthers’ offset payment. The NFL’s policy does not address college jobs, but the Panthers may be set to use this clause in an effort to avoid paying Rhule the approximately $5MM he seeks. It is not clear how much money the Panthers have paid Rhule to date, but Jones adds this matter is expected to be resolved in a few weeks’ time.
“I made this mistake,” Tepper said. “I think it’s a mistake to have a CEO-type head coach. OK? That’s a mistake, just in general. That’s what I kind of believe. So I think you want to get somebody who’s really good on offense or really good on defense.”
November 30th, 2022 at 11:00pm CST by Sam Robinson
Matt Rhule‘s Nebraska agreement severs the ties between he and the Panthers, who are now evaluating to see if Steve Wilkscan become the first interim HC in six years to stick around as a full-time hire. But the team’s previous coach offered candor regarding his Carolina tenure.
When asked what he would do differently as Panthers HC, Rhule said he would have steered clear of the job he accepted in 2020. The Panthers gave Rhule a monster contract — seven years, $62MM — and the deal led the former college rebuild architect to believe he had more time than he did to turn the team around.
“I think I probably would just probably [have] taken another job,” Rhule said during an appearance on The Season with Peter Schrager podcast (via Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio). “It’s a great place. Wonderful people. But I just don’t know if I was a fit there.
“You know, at the end of the day, you know, we talked about, ‘Hey, we’re gonna have a four-year plan, a five-year plan.’ You know, if you tell me, ‘Hey, we got a two-year plan,’ then I’m gonna go sign a bunch of free agents and do it. So what was a four-year plan became a two-year-and-five-game plan real quick.”
In most cases, NFL coaches in this era cannot execute four- or five-year plans without progress in the win column. The Panthers went 11-27 under Rhule. Rhule’s college rebuilds progressed much faster, with Temple going from two to six to 10 wins in the longtime college coach’s first three seasons and Baylor vaulting from one to seven to 11 victories during his three-year stay at the Big 12 school. This made Rhule a coveted commodity, leading to David Tepper‘s blockbuster offer.
At the time, reporting linked Rhule to preferring the Giants over the Panthers. The Giants represented the New York native’s only previous NFL experience — a one-year stint (2012) on Tom Coughlin‘s staff — but John Marabalked at matching Tepper’s offer. Rhule also had a pretty clear idea of his standing late in the 2021 season, when hot-seat rumors swirled. The Panthers brought Rhule back for a third season, but he took issue with how the franchise changed the timetable. This would not be the first time Tepper has drawn criticism for his ownership style and it is certainly not the first time in recent years a college coach has been unable to replicate success at the NFL level.
“I’m not angry about it,” Rhule said. “At the end of the day, I understand. But if it’s gonna be that quick, then we’re gonna sign some more free agents, we’re gonna go make the blockbuster trade, we’re gonna do those things. I think the trajectory we were on was correct.”
Highlighted by their three-year, $63MM Teddy Bridgewater deal in 2020, the Panthers made some notable free agent signings during Rhule’s run. They did not, however, wade into the market’s deep waters. The team gave ex-Rhule Temple charges Robbie Anderson and Haason Reddick midlevel deals (a two-year, $20MM pact for Anderson in 2020 and a one-year, $6MM Reddick accord during 2021’s reduced-cap offseason) and handed out a three-year, $26.25MM contract to Austin Corbett this year. Carolina also sent Jacksonville a third-round pick for C.J. Henderson and added Stephon Gilmore. These players supplemented a Carolina core that drew trade interest after Rhule’s firing. Though, teams’ top Panthers trade targets — Christian McCaffrey, Brian Burns, D.J. Moore — were on the roster before Rhule’s arrival.
It will be interesting to see how Rhule fares in attempting to rebuild the Cornhuskers while simultaneously observing if his cornerstone Panthers draft picks — Derrick Brown, Jeremy Chinn, Jaycee Horn, Ikem Ekwonu — end up being part of a contender in the future.
November 27th, 2022 at 10:25am CST by Sam Robinson
NOVEMBER 27: Rhule and Nebraska have agreed to an eight-year, $72MM contract, per Rapoport (via Twitter). RapSheet says the deal will offset the “vast majority” of the ~$34MM the Panthers owed to Rhule.
NOVEMBER 26: Matt Rhule has found his next gig. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reports (via Twitter) that the recently fired Panthers coach will indeed be taking the Nebraska head coaching gig. Rapoport adds that the two sides have agreed to a deal.
NOVEMBER 25: The Panthers may soon have a way out of the nearly $34MM owed to Matt Rhule beyond this season. Nebraska has honed in on the former Temple and Baylor HC, according to ESPN.com’s Chris Low, who adds the sides are hoping to finalize a deal soon (Twitter link).
Rhule’s seven-year, $62MM Panthers contract includes offset language that would allow the team to avoid paying Rhule beyond 2022, should he be hired as a college HC for the 2023 season. The Cornhuskers may be close to fully clearing that path, with ESPN’s Pete Thamel adding a deal is expected. The Panthers’ part in this is not completely done, per Thamel, who adds that lofty through-2026 contract is part of the Rhule-Nebraska negotiations (Twitterlinks).
Nebraska fired head coach Scott Frost earlier this season. The one-time college powerhouse has not hit the 10-win benchmark since 2010 and has dipped in stature since its run at a national title in 2001. The Big Ten program is finishing out what will be its sixth straight losing season. Rhule’s status as a program-building coach would naturally be attractive for a team that has largely struggled to compete since leaving the Big 12. This would also be a new challenge for Rhule, whose previous rebuilds came in the American Athletic Conference and Big 12.
Once coveted by NFL teams, Rhule saw his stock around the league take hits during his time in Carolina. The Panthers went 11-27 under Rhule, but he has always been viewed as a candidate to land another college HC gig. Rhule is 47-43 as a college coach. His first years at Temple and Baylor are largely responsible for that near-.500 mark; Rhule led three 10-win seasons prior to trying his hand in the NFL. He looks set to follow several coaches who failed to make the college-to-NFL transition — Chip Kelly, Bobby Petrino, Lane Kiffin and Nick Saban among the recent examples — to return to their former level.
Should this Nebraska hire come to fruition, it will take David Tepper off the hook for the widely criticized contract he gave Rhule in 2020. The Giants were also courting Rhule that year, and the seven-year college HC wanted to return to that organization — where he previously operated as O-line coach — over accepting Tepper’s offer. But John Marabowed out of the Rhule sweepstakes, hiring Joe Judge instead of matching Carolina’s offer.
Quarterback issues derailed Rhule in Charlotte, but the Panthers did add some pieces under Rhule — Derrick Brown, Jeremy Chinn, Jaycee Horn — that came up at the trade deadline. Panthers interim HC Steve Wilksaxed Rhule’s defensive coordinator, Phil Snow, as well. Snow having worked with Rhule at Temple and Baylor would make it logical to expect he will resurface in Lincoln.
Although the Panthers are startingBaker Mayfield in Week 11, they want to see Sam Darnold in action this season. Steve Wilks said he would like to give Darnold some work, though the interim HC did not indicate that would be certain to happen this week against the Ravens. “I’m interested in winning the game. This is not pay $250 to get to play,” Wilks said, via The Athletic’s Joe Person (on Twitter).
Carolina used one of its injury activations to move Darnold onto its 53-man roster last week, but the former No. 3 overall pick did not see any action against the Falcons. P.J. Walker is out of the picture for the time being, after becoming the third Carolina QB this season to suffer a high ankle sprain. Mayfield will make his first start since sustaining his ankle injury in Week 9. Here is the latest from what has become one of the more complex QB situations in recent NFL history:
After playing hurt last season, Mayfield has not turned it around. On the radar for a potential franchise-QB deal in 2021, Mayfield is on track for free agency for the first time. The market for the former No. 1 overall pick may check in at $5-$7MM on a prove-it deal, David Newton of ESPN.com notes. Mayfield’s 17.7 QBR ranks last in the NFL.
This situation has been in flux since Cam Newton‘s 2019 foot injury. Prior to the team making the Newton-for-Teddy Bridgewater change, GM Marty Hurney and most of the Panthers’ scouts were high on Justin Herbert. But Matt Rhule did not view 2020 as the window to draft a quarterback, with Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com indicating in an expansive piece the team saw a jump from No. 7 overall to No. 4 — ahead of the QB-seeking Dolphins and Chargers — as too costly. While then-Giants GM Dave Gettleman was not keen on trading down, going most of his GM career without ever doing so, the Panthers not making a push for Herbert has led to QB chaos.
After the Panthers determined Bridgewater — a preference of former OC Joe Brady — would be a one-and-done in Charlotte, they made a big offer for Matthew Stafford. Negotiations between new Panthers GM Scott Fitterer and Lions rookie GM Brad Holmes at the 2021 Senior Bowl led to Panthers brass leaving Mobile believing they were set to acquire Stafford, Fowler notes. It is interesting to learn how far the GMs progressed in talks, because Stafford made it known soon after he did not want to play for the Panthers. The Rams then came in late with their two-first-rounder offer, forcing the Panthers and others to look elsewhere.
Rhule then pushed hard for Darnold, Fowler adds, after Panthers staffers went through film sessions evaluating he, Carson Wentz and Drew Lock. The Panthers sent the Jets second-, fourth- and sixth-round picks for the former No. 3 overall pick and picked up his guaranteed $18.9MM fifth-year option. Owner David Tepper begrudgingly picked up the option but became irked by the 2023 cost hanging over the franchise, per Fowler. Tepper is believed to have held up this year’s Mayfield trade talks in order to move the Browns to pick up more money on his option salary. The delay was connected to the Panthers already having Darnold’s fifth-year option to pay.
Tepper’s main prize during this multiyear QB odyssey, Deshaun Watson, was leery of the Panthers’ staff uncertainty, Fowler adds. All things being equal between the four finalists — Atlanta, Carolina, Cleveland, New Orleans — the Panthers were not believed to be Watson’s first choice. The Falcons were viewed as the team that would have landed Watson if the Browns did not make that unprecedented $230MM guarantee offer.
Fitterer offered support for a Mitch Trubisky signing this offseason, according to Fowler, who adds the team never engaged in extended talks with Jimmy Garoppolo‘s camp. While Garoppolo said the Panthers were in the mix, the team was believed to be leery of his injury history. Trubisky is in Year 1 of a two-year, $14.3MM deal. While Trubisky may well be available again in 2023, the Panthers — having added six draft picks from the Christian McCaffrey and Robbie Anderson trades — will be connected to this year’s crop of QB prospects.
Despite authorizing a seven-year contract to lure Matt Rhule from Baylor, Panthers owner David Teppercut the cord this week. Tepper did so less than three years after he outmuscled the Giants for Rhule, who was believed to have preferred the Giants job to the one he ended up taking. After the Giants sent a private plane for Rhule’s January 2020 interview, Tepper upped his offer from six years to seven, according to Joe Person of The Athletic (subscription required). The seven-year, $62MM contract ensured Rhule never boarded that plane.
Although Rhule reached out to the Giants to see if they would match, John Maraviewed such a contract as exorbitant for a coach without much NFL experience. Still, the Giants preferred Rhule to Joe Judge that year. The Panthers, who paid Baylor a $6MM buyout fee in 2020, will not be forced to pay out Rhule’s guaranteed $40MM-plus remaining. Carolina is on the hook for Rhule’s 2022 salary, but the remaining cash will be offset by the coach’s next college gig — whenever that comes to pass. Here is the latest from the Rhule dismissal:
The Panthers made a quarterback splash in 2020, giving Teddy Bridgewater a three-year deal worth $63MM. Then-OC Joe Brady lobbied for Bridgewater, whom the young coach worked with during his time with the Saints, Person adds. Bridgewater was by far the best QB option during the Rhule period, with the Sam Darnold, Cam Newton 2.0 and Baker Mayfield (so far) stays producing bottom-end work.
Another option for Carolina would have been Justin Herbert, but Person notes the team did not want to give up the draft capital necessary to trade up for the Oregon prospect. The Panthers held the No. 7 overall pick in 2020; Herbert went sixth to the Chargers. Carolina, however, may have needed to trade up to No. 3 (Detroit) to secure Herbert or Tua Tagovailoa real estate. The Dolphins and Bolts likely were not open to moving down, and at that point, Dave Gettleman had never traded down during his time as the Giants or Panthers’ GM. The Panthers liked Herbert as a prospect, but they ended up taking Derrick Brown at 7. That certainly qualifies as a notable “what if?” for the organization.
After the Panthers passed on Justin Fields and Mac Jones in 2021, they were linked to ex-Rhule Temple recruit Kenny Pickett at No. 6 this year. But Carolina did not view Pickett as worthy of such a high pick, Person adds. GM Scott Fitterer openly said before the draft the team would have the tackle prospects rated above all the QB talents in this year’s draft. Other teams tended to agree, with the Steelers nabbing Pickett at No. 20 — without trading up — and no other QBs coming off the board until Round 3.
Rhule’s decision to fire Brady after going on vacation during Carolina’s 2021 bye week did not sit well with some players, per Person. Rhule encouraged players to get away that week and kept his travel plans, but Brady and QBs coach Sean Ryan stayed in town to work with the recently re-signed Newton as he learned the Panthers’ new offense. Brady’s firing leaked on the Sunday during Carolina’s bye week, when Rhule returned to Charlotte. Brady is now the Bills’ quarterbacks coach.
The Panthers organization will have an important decision to make when it comes to replacing MattRhule, but the team is more than happy with their current arrangement. SteveWilks took on the role of interim HC, and Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post writes that this was always the team’s plan if things didn’t work out with their now-former head coach.
The Panthers convinced Wilks to step away from his defensive coordinator gig at Missouri to be their defensive passing game coordinator/secondary coach. The team made this hiring as a contingency in case they had to move on from Rhule; Wilks was still highly regarded within the organization thanks to his previous stint with the Panthers, and ownership was more than happy to hand him the reigns. Per La Canfora, Wilks will get a legitimate chance to keep the head coaching gig beyond this season.
While Panthers owner DavidTepper is more than willing to make a big splash on the sideline, sources tell La Canfora that SeanPayton is not a realistic target. Those sources don’t believe Payton would mesh with Tepper, and the organization’s lack of draft picks and a foundational QB means a quick rebuild is unlikely. Plus, one GM told La Canfora that the Saints would prefer to trade Payton to an AFC squad, and it’s especially unlikely they trade him within the division.
Elsewhere on the coaching staff, AlHolcomb will take over as the defensive play caller. The 51-year-old coach was originally hired as Carolina’s defensive run game coordinator. He’ll replace defensive coordinator PhilSnow, who was fired alongside Rhule. Wilks told Joseph Person of The Athletic that it was his decision to move on from Snow, and Person later wrote that the interim HC had some “philosophical differences” with the DC.
“It was my call and my decision,” Wilks said. “I just felt like I wanted a different approach moving forward … The schemes aren’t gonna change much,” he added. “But I think you have to be creative in the process of what you’re doing. And everything is predicated on who we’re playing.”
The NFL news circuit was set ablaze today when news broke of the firings of Panthers head coachMatt Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow. The termination of Rhule was not necessarily a surprise, as he’s been firmly on the hot seat all year and the possibility of firing Rhule had been discussed “well before” today, according to Josina Anderson of CBS Sports, but it did create a newsworthy fallout of information that is of interest to those who follow the sport.
Many have talked about the contract implications of Rhule’s termination, alluding to the millions of dollars still remaining on his contract. While it’s completely applicable to Rhule’s situation, it doesn’t sound like it is a concern to Carolina. Ian Rapoport of NFL Network tweeted out that “Carolina is on the hook for this season, but the salaries for the ensuing seasons are offset by what his future college job pays him.” Essentially, Rhule will absolutely get his guaranteed money, but the onus won’t be on Carolina to pay it. Whenever Rhule, who is presumed to be a top college coaching candidate for next year, gets another job, his salary from the new school will offset the amount the Panthers owe him.
It was also announced that Panthers defensive passing game coordinator & secondary coach Steve Wilks will sub in as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season. The defensive-minded former head coach of the Cardinals has apparently already begun to make the team his own. When Panthers owner David Tepper was asked why Snow was fired, he reportedly pointed the finger at Wilks, telling reporters to direct that question to the interim head coach, according to ESPN’s David Newton.
Here are a few more fallout items from today, starting with some ideas on Rhule’s replacement:
The biggest nugget to come out of today concerning Carolina is that, as most NFL executives expected Rhule to lose his job, many in league circles are expecting the Panthers to start dealing veteran assets in an attempt to accrue draft capital that might make the head coaching position more attractive, according to Jason La Canfora of the Washington Post. The Panthers currently only hold four draft picks for 2023: first-, second-, fourth-, and fifth-round picks, supporting the idea that trading away veterans could improve their current situation. Trading away veterans with expensive contracts, such as star running back Christian McCaffrey or wide receiver Robbie Anderson, could prove troublesome, according to La Canfora, so the Panthers are reportedly willing to eat some of those salaries in order to facilitate moving those assets. Early reports claimed that the Bills have reached out about McCaffrey and that they did in the offseason, as well, according to Person, but Tom Pelissero of NFL Network clarified that, while every team will be calling about McCaffrey, the Panthers haven’t engaged in any trade talks yet. In addition to McCaffrey and Anderson, Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports expects wide receiver D.J. Moore, defensive end Brian Burns, and defensive tackle Derrick Brownto be on the table.
Jeff Howe of The Athletic posed the question today of who might replace Rhule and offered quite a few suggestions. Howe started the list with Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn who took the Falcons to the Super Bowl as head coach in 2016. Next, he mentioned 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. Ryans interviewed for the Vikings’ job this offseason and was expected to interview for the Raiders’, as well. The 38-year-old has rocketed up coaching boards since retiring as a player in 2015. Another name mentioned was Eagles defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon who also interviewed for the Vikings last year, in addition to the Texans and Broncos. Howe went into great detail on every candidate, seeming to list anybody who may be up for a head coaching job in the next few seasons. His list included former NFL head coaches including the retired Sean Payton, Steelers senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach Brian Flores, Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier, and former Colts and Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, as well as the current interim head coach, Wilks. Other serious candidates Howe mentioned were Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, and Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham. The list essentially devolved into an article about anybody who may make the jump to NFL head coach in the next few seasons, pointing out “wait and see” candidates such as Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Buccaneers offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, Dolphins offensive coordinator Frank Smith, Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Broncos defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell, and Giants defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale.
One interesting name that came out of today’s rumors was former Panthers All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly. Joe Person of The Athletic advised that an eye be kept on Kuechly, who remains close with Wilks and new defensive coordinator Al Holcomb, to come back in some capacity. After retiring from a pro scout position last year, Kuechly has been working as an analyst on Panthers radio broadcasts.
In a move which comes as little surprise at this point, the Panthers have fired head coach Matt Rhule, the team announced on Monday. Defensive passing game coordinator/secondary coach Steve Wilks will replace him on an interim basis.
Talk of Rhule being on the hot seat began at the onset of the 2022 season, his third with the team. It was at that point that he was able to make significant strides at both Temple and Baylor, leading to expectations that he would be able to do the same along a similar timeline in the NFL. Instead, the team has started the season 1-4, dropping his overall coaching record to 11-27.
Offensive struggles have been at the heart of Carolina’s performances under Rhule. The team has ranked no higher than 24th in the league in scoring during his tenure, something which some hoped would turn around this season with the acquisition of quarterback Baker Mayfieldand a return to health from running back Christian McCaffrey. The unit has underperformed in 2022, however.
That led to increased speculation that a mid-season firing could take place. Owner David Tepper had insisted on remaining patient with the 47-year-old, though, as recently as late September. Two losses since have been marked by further underwhelming performances, and reports of tension between Rhule and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. The fact that Mayfield played part of yesterday’s game against the 49ers on an injured left foot did little to help his or Rhule’s job security.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweets that Rhule had the option to leave Carolina in favor of a return to the college ranks, but chose to stay. Now, he will likely be among the top candidates to fill a number of openings which currently exist at high-profile programs. ESPN’s Adam Schefter adds (via Twitter) that Rhule is still owed more than $40MM on the seven-year, $62MM contract he signed upon arrival in Charlotte.
With Rhule gone, the Panthers will move forward with Wilks heading the staff. A presence on Carolina’s sidelines from 2012-17, the 53-year-old spent the following season as head coach of the Cardinals. His tenure there lasted only one year, however, after the team went 3-13. The nature of his dismissal from Arizona led to Wilks joining Brian Flores’ ongoing racial discrimination lawsuit against the NFL and several clubs.
He spent 2019 as the Browns’ defensive coordinator, then one year removed from coaching. In 2021, Wilks was the DC at Missouri, before returning to the Panthers for this campaign. He will now have the remainder of the 2022 season to try and orchestrate a turnaround, while auditioning for the full-time role of head coach. On that point, Rapoport adds that Wilks will be given “serious consideration” for a permanent posting (video link).
The performance of Wilks and the rest of the team will now be worth watching over the coming months. Regardless of their ability to turn the season around, the Rhule era has officially ended after less than three seasons.
After another loss in a season filled with underwhelming performances, the Panthers sit at 1-4. Questions about head coach Matt Rhule‘s job security will no doubt continue to be asked, though an answer could be coming very soon.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk tweets that “it’s a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if'” regarding Rhule being fired. He opines that owner David Tepper will make the move tomorrow (Twitter link). Doing so would come after a 37-15 loss to the 49ers, dropping his overall coaching record to 11-27.
Rhule’s seat was considered one of the hottest heading into the season, and the team’s performance to date has done little to quell talk of his job security. Just two weeks ago, however, it was reported that no coaching change was imminent. Since then, the team has lost two straight, struggling on offense in particular.
That has led to talk of miscommunication between Rhule and offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. The unit sat at the bottom of the league in yardage entering tonight’s contest, one in which they totaled 339 yards. An underwhelming defensive performance contributed to the San Francisco loss, though the Panthers have generally fared better on that side of the ball.
“I hope you guys can understand, I’m here to talk about the game,” Rhule said when speaking to the media. “I’ve always been very forthright with you guys. You know, I have nothing to say about [speculation on his future] now. I’m really just here to talk about the game. I would never want to make this about me.”
The acquisition of quarterback Baker Mayfield this offseason was thought to give Rhule the best offense to work with since his 2020 hire. The former No. 1 pick has struggled in his new home, however, and an injury has been added to his 2022 ails. Mayfield exited the game before Carolina’s final possession, and was seen after the contest in a walking boot (Twitter link via Joe Person of The Athletic).
Moving on from Rhule would come as little surprise for many around the football world, including PFR’s readers. It could lead to a veteran replacement either in the short- or long-term, leaving Rhule to potentially return to the college ranks where he made a name for himself. That could have an impact from a financial standpoint, as an NCAA program hiring Rhule could offset some of the cost he is still owed by Carolina from the seven-year, $62MM he is tied to.
One month into the 2022 campaign, few NFL teams have truly surged out of the gate and distanced themselves from the rest of the field. There are some, on the other hand, which have invited speculation about potential coaching changes.
Calls for a firing have most loudly been made so far in Carolina. Matt Rhule entered this year, his third with the Panthers, with expectations to steer the franchise back into playoff contention. His ability to do so at both Temple and Baylor earned him a sizeable first NFL head coaching deal, but results have been lacking so far.
The acquisition of quarterback Baker Mayfieldand a return to health from star running back Christian McCaffreyled to optimism that improvement on the offensive side of the ball in particular would be coming. Instead, the Panthers rank last in the league in yards, and 17th in points scored so far. A severe lack of wins when allowing more than 17 points has stretched into 2022; the fact that the 47-year-old continues to back Mayfield as the team’s No. 1 signal-caller will tie the pair together, though, regardless of their shared success or failure. Despite the significant term remaining on his first NFL deal, Rhule could make way for a more experienced option if an offensive resurgence doesn’t take shape.
The same may end up being true of FrankReich in Indianapolis. The team’s annual replacement of their starting QB resulted in the arrival of Matt Ryanand the expectation of far more stability at the position compared to Carson Wentz. The former MVP has struggled mightily with respect to ball security, however, leading the league in both interceptions (seven) and fumbles (11). His 21 sacks taken have further hampered an offense averaging a league-worst 13.8 points per game.
Winless through the first half of their divisional contests, the Colts currently sit third in what is still considered an underwhelming AFC South. Plenty of time for a turnaround exists, of course, but there is added urgency around the team after 2021’s late-season collapse which cost them a playoff berth. Reich is tied to general manager Chris Ballard, as the pair were extended through 2026 just last year, potentially giving them a longer leash in the Ryan era, which they hope will last far longer than that of his predecessors. Early returns on the team’s investment in that trio have certainly been underwhelming, though.
In Arizona, KliffKingsbury entered 2022 with the expectation that the Cardinals’ inconsistencies would be corrected. After a hot start ended with a disappointing end to the campaign in 2021, Kingsbury and GM Steve Keim each received extensions and are now on the books through 2027. That move was eventually followed up by a massive second contract for QB Kyler Murraythis summer, leaving the potential for he and Kingsbury to remain together for the foreseeable future.
However, Arizona has started 2-2 this season, ranking in the middle of the pack offensively. The absence of wideout DeAndre Hopkins, dating back to late last year, has hamstrung the team on that side of the ball to such a degree that Kingsbury’s scheme has increasingly come under fire. In spite of year-to-year improvement in the win-loss column over the course of his tenure on the sidelines, then, the 43-year-old is considered to be facing something of a make-or-break proposition in 2022. The return of Hopkins from suspension will no doubt give the offense a boost, but whether that translates to increased success – especially early in games – will be worth monitoring closely.
Another team facing unexpected struggles with the ball is the Broncos, led by rookie HC Nathaniel Hackett. The addition of QB Russell Wilsonhas not yielded anywhere near the production which was expected upon his arrival (and subsequent extension) heading into the season, with blame being shared between the two. Denver’s calamitous efforts in the red zone in particular have led to poor primetime showings and a 2-3 record.
Hackett has already responded by bringing veteran advisor Jerry Rosburg out of retirement, though Thursday night’s loss to the Colts did little to quell doubts about the team’s 2022 prospects. The growing list of injuries Denver is dealing with on both sides of the ball would have hampered their playoff chances regardless of if Hackett had taken the Broncos gig or any of the other four he interviewed for this winter. Still, the fact that he has risen up the list of contenders to be replaced so early in his tenure speaks to how problematic it has been so far.
Will one of these four coaches be the first to receive their walking papers, or will that fate befall a different bench boss? Cast your vote in PFR’s latest poll and have your say in the comments below: