McCoy’s star has never been higher, and he will have opportunities to move on; four teams — Arizona, Buffalo, Chicago and Philadelphia — have reportedly contacted the Broncos about interviewing McCoy during the Broncos’ first-round bye. There could be other possibilities; if the Panthers’ to-be-determined general-manager hire jettisons Ron Rivera, then McCoy could be a top candidate, given his familiarity with the organization from his nine years on the staffs of George Seifert (2000-01) and John Fox (2002-08).
But for now, the possibilities for McCoy are the four to request the Broncos’ permission. None are perfect, but the Bears appear to be the best short-term situation, while the Eagles offer the best gig from an organizational-strength perspective.
Here’s how they break down:
PROS: Any coach hired will be tied to a new general manager, so there will be no competing agendas. The defense was among the league’s best before breaking down late under the strain of carrying a hapless offense; it still finished 12th in the league in total defense this year. WR Larry Fitzgerald remains among the league’s elite, but has been wasted with poor quarterback play.
CONS: The quarterbacks on the roster are stopgaps and there are no obvious alternatives on the market, since the 49ers are unlikely to trade Alex Smith within the division. The offensive line is a sieve; if Peyton Manning had signed with the Cardinals he might not have made it half a season. This team can’t run (32nd in the league rankings) or throw (28th), and only the Chiefs scored fewer points. San Francisco and Seattle are miles ahead, as is St. Louis, and all have identified their long-term quarterbacks — each of whom has proved worthy of the job.
ASSESSMENT: Arizona has already reached out to ex-Eagles coach Andy Reid, who appears to be the most logical fit because of his prior relationship with Kevin Kolb, who played four seasons as a backup under him in Philadelphia. Given the lack of outside options to rebuild the quarterback position, the Cardinals appear to be stuck with Kolb for the short term. That being said, the performance of the defense also ensures that coordinator Ray Horton will get an interview. McCoy looks like a backup plan here if Reid goes elsewhere or Horton bombs the interview, but the Cardinals will be flexible and keep all options open for as long as possible.
PROS: Explosive skill position players (WR Steve Johnson, RB C.J. Spiller). Spiller hasn’t been used as extensively as he could and is a breakout season waiting to happen. No club has a longer playoff drought and there hasn’t been a winning season since 2004, so expectations are absurdly low and a 9-7 season will buy time and credibility. The nonagenarian owner who at times appears too desperate to win, Ralph Wilson, has this week fully handed the reins to Russ Brandon, who told the Bills’ website, “He told me he was passing the torch to me to run the franchise in totality.”
CONS: Wilson’s desperation caused him to sign off on budget-blasting contracts to players who haven’t been worthy of such financial commitment (Mario Williams, Ryan Fitzpatrick). The Bills need a long-term quarterbacking answer, and this draft likely doesn’t provide it unless they reach. The team is likely to be sold when the 94-year-old Wilson dies, leading to a murky future (Buffalo? Toronto? London? Los Angeles?) and a potential franchise reset in football operations at that point. Winning the division is a pipe dream until Tom Brady and Bill Belichick retire from New England.
ASSESSMENT: If McCoy takes this job, it’s because there’s something he loves about the family atmosphere and smaller-market charms that western New York provides. But it appears the Bills are looking strongly at men with head-coaching experience, as they have reportedly reached out to Lovie Smith, Ken Whisenhunt and former Raiders head coach Hue Jackson already. Eight of the Bills’ 13 head coaches since the AFL-NFL merger were retreads, including the only ones to get the Bills to the playoffs in that span (Lou Saban, 1974, Chuck Knox, 1980 and 1981, Marv Levy, 1988-93, 1995-96, Wade Phillips, 1998-99). McCoy can do better than this, anyway.
PROS: A franchise quarterback with whom you can win (Jay Cutler), and with whom Mike McCoy had no issues in their brief time together before the April 2009 trade. A defense that remains stout, even though it appears likely the club will part ways with aging linchpin Brian Urlacher. Running back Matt Forte is one of the league’s best multipurpose backs, but is starting to show signs of wear and tear after five seasons.
CONS: The offensive line is shaky. Aaron Rodgers is just 29 years old and the Green Bay Packers are in the same division and only 213 miles north. It’s possible to steal a division title here and there — the Bears did so in 2010, but then lost the NFC Championship at home to the Packers. If a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then this is the best division in football because Detroit is blessed with talent, even though it underachieved massively this year. Devin Hester’s numbers have declined as a receiver and returner in recent years and he’s threatened to retire after Lovie Smith’s firing this week, although such emotions typically pass when faced with the reality of abandoning a seven-figure paycheck.
ASSESSMENT: A terrific job — possibly the best on the market, but not without flaws. The top receiver is Brandon Marshall, which can be a pro or a con, depending on how you look at him; he and Cutler clearly have synergy, but McCoy was also in Denver for Marshall’s final meltdowns. That being said, McCoy has worked with enigmatic receivers before — particularly Carolina’s Steve Smith — and has gotten results with a minimum of distraction. Frankly, the biggest problems with this job aren’t in Illinois; they’re in Wisconsin (Rodgers) and Minnesota (Adrian Peterson).
PROS: Running backs who are talented (LeSean McCoy) and intriguing (Bryce Brown, who had a fumbling problem but still averaged 4.9 yards per carry). An owner (Jeffrey Lurie) who will spend money when it’s available under the salary cap. The facilities are immaculate and nearly without peer. The NFC East doesn’t have a juggernaut. Lurie and GM Howie Roseman are patient enough to see through a rebuilding and stuck with Reid a year longer than many owners would have. Rookie QB Nick Foles was solid, improved as he went along and is intriguing enough to earn a lengthy look at quarterback.
CONS: An aging talent base that will likely be purged in the offseason. The Eagles are in the process of purging some onerous contracts and will likely close Lurie’s wallet in free agency for a while. The fan base is passionate, but historically responds better to emotionally unrestrained coaches like Buddy Ryan or Dick Vermeil than the cooler, more distant types. Reid is the winningest coach in Eagles history, but is and never will be as fondly recalled as Vermeil or Ryan, both of whom appeared to understand the gestalt of the Eagles and their supporters better.
ASSESSMENT: How much do you like Foles? Whoever gets this job is likely to have his fate tied to that of the raw, somewhat scattershot rookie whose season was summed up by the last drive against the Redskins on Dec. 23, when he marched the Eagles to first-and-goal at the 5-yard-line with 11 seconds left but blew a chance to win by taking an intentional-grounding penalty. If McCoy can work with Foles and can develop him, this job is the best of the bunch when factoring in ownership and organizational structure. Some of the Eagles’ moves this offseason will represent addition by subtraction, and it’s not hard to see a path to 9-7 and a division title next year if the cards fall right — but long-term, a steady rebuild and two drafts with high selections will likely be more helpful, especially as the Eagles dig their way out of some bad contracts. Given the club’s history of patience, loyalty to coaches and its ability to tune out their vociferous, reactionary fan base, this is an enviable job.