The NFL is forever a reshuffle league, and that’s especially true with coaching staffs. Owners and fan bases aren’t known for being patient, and every offseason a bunch of teams bring in new head coaches and new coordinators to run their offenses.
Today, I’m going to discuss five of the more interesting offenses in flux, aiming to set us up as we get ready for free agency and the NFL Draft. Not every team will find a way to fix its offense, but some of these arrows are undoubtedly pointed up.
Arthur Smith, Steelers Offensive Coordinator
Smith’s time in Atlanta left everyone with a bad taste in their mouth. The Falcons finished 7-10 in each of Smith’s three seasons, and despite a host of name-brand offensive pieces, Atlanta routinely had a disappointing offense.
The fantasy community was willing to drive Smith to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. Get this guy out of town.
But it’s important to remember Smith was a well-regarded offensive mind not long ago. He ran the Tennessee offense for two seasons prior to the Atlanta job, and there were plenty of hits. Ryan Tannehill was outstanding in 2019 (Pro Bowl, 117.5 rating) and 2020 (33 touchdowns, seven interceptions). A.J. Brown matured into a Pro Bowl receiver. Derrick Henry led the league in rushing both years.
Some professional coaches are better served as coordinators, not head coaches. Names like Josh McDaniels, Wade Phillips and Norv Turner come to mind. Maybe Smith is one of those guys. The Steelers quarterback situation is obviously unsettled — maybe Kenny Pickett isn’t the answer, and Mason Rudolph’s late run might be a mirage. But everyone can see how much talent this offense has at the other skill positions. Pittsburgh’s spring and summer practices are going to be fascinating.
Try to keep an open mind with Smith.
Zac Robinson, Falcons Offensive Coordinator
Now that the Smith section is cleaned up, we have to consider what’s left in Atlanta. The Falcons still have a host of offensive talent — Bijan Robinson, Drake London and Kyle Pitts most prominently — and fantasy managers would love to see these guys unleashed.
Maybe Robinson is the man with the skeleton key.
Robinson’s last four years have been spent with the Rams offense — remember when everyone in Sean McVay’s orbit was considered on the NFL fast track? For the last two years, Robinson helmed the LAR quarterback room and was the team’s passing game coordinator. Puka Nacua’s smashing rookie success has many parents — count Robinson among them.
Atlanta head coach Raheem Morris knows Robinson well, as he was also part of the Los Angeles staff. Morris is a defensive guy, of course. He’ll leave Robinson and his play sheet alone. Maybe there’s time for us to go double or nothing with Pitts and friends in 2024, depending on what the Falcons come up with at quarterback.
Dave Canales, Panthers Head Coach
When the 2023 regular season ended, I viewed the Carolina opening as the worst job in the NFL. The Panthers have a mercurial and impatient owner, a young quarterback who might not be any good and no first-round pick. They also play in an unglamorous market. This job might turn out to be coaching quicksand.
But when Canales took the job, I was willing to revisit the situation. Canales, after all, was the OC for Tampa Bay this year — his fingerprints were all over Baker Mayfield’s comeback season. And Canales spent several successful years as a Seattle offensive coach; he was the quarterback coach in 2022 when Geno Smith shocked the world with a breakout season.
Maybe Canales has the chops to turn this Carolina program around.
Canales has spent his early Carolina days talking up quarterback Bryce Young, which is to be expected. Young’s confidence needs to be rebuilt after a nightmarish rookie year. It’s a concern when a rookie plays as poorly as Young did, but it isn’t always a kill shot. Consider some of the rookies who had indexed quarterback ratings of 80 or below in their first lap (100 is league average): Alex Smith, Eli Manning, Terry Bradshaw, Josh Allen, Matthew Stafford, Trevor Lawrence, Troy Aikman, John Elway, Dan Fouts.
Most of Carolina’s offense needs a fresh coat of paint, but perhaps Canales is the quarterback whisperer to get the best out of Young.
Kellen Moore, Eagles Offensive Coordinator
The Eagles decided to keep head coach Nick Sirianni, but major changes were made to the rest of the staff. Vic Fangio is the new defensive coordinator — shockingly, the Matt Patricia Hail Mary at the end of 2023 didn’t work out — and Moore was brought in to steer the offense. Moore’s star rose steadily during four years in Dallas — the Pokes led the NFL in points and yards back in 2021 and were fourth in scoring a year later.
Moore’s one year with the Chargers didn’t go anywhere, but much of that was out of his control. Justin Herbert, Mike Williams, Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler all had injury-wrecked seasons. The Eagles were a stumbling mess down the stretch last year, but Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown were playing hurt. Philadelphia’s offensive group still has unlimited upside; heck, it was the best fantasy unit back in 2022.
Jim Harbaugh, Chargers Head Coach
Harbaugh’s personality isn’t for everybody, but he’s been a consistent winner everywhere he’s coached. I can’t tell you a lot about his stint with the San Diego Toreros of the Pioneer Football League, but Harbaugh went 29-6 there. Harbaugh then rebuilt the Stanford program (12-1 his final year, 29-21 overall) before taking the 49ers job.
Harbaugh won two NFC West titles in four years with the Niners and made it to the Super Bowl in his second year (losing to brother John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens). Even with one .500 season at the end of the run, Harbaugh was a 44-19-1 man when his NFL career went on sabbatical.
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The Michigan success speaks for itself — Harbaugh went 86-25 overall and 60-17 in the Big Ten. The final three years included wins over Ohio State, and obviously Michigan just won the NCAA title, completing an undefeated season.
Harbaugh’s never worked with a quarterback as talented as Justin Herbert, the man he inherits with the Chargers. J.J. McCarthy was solid at Michigan the last two years but isn’t a can’t-miss pro prospect. Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick had moments with the Niners, sure. But Herbert’s ceiling looks considerably higher.
The star skill pieces around Herbert are all on the back nines of their respective careers, so the Chargers might be active in the free agent and trade markets. Whatever the Chargers ultimately do with their roster, we’d like to see them have a fair season with injury luck, for once. It’s harder to be good in the NFL than it is to be mediocre, but at times the Chargers look like one of those teams born under a bad sign.
Harbaugh’s never failed with a rebuilding project before. And at least the Chargers have that first foundational piece: the franchise quarterback.