Coaches, executives and even players will feel some heat this season, but who is under the most pressure? Our experts weigh in.
Jamison Hensley, Baltimore Ravens reporter: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. Five seasons removed from sitting atop the football world, Flacco is a popular name on any “hot seat” list. That’s what happens when the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player fails to live up to a big-money contract and the team then drafts a quarterback in the first round. Ravens officials have repeatedly insisted Flacco is the starting quarterback this season after Baltimore selected Lamar Jackson with the No. 32 pick. The uncertainty is Flacco’s future. “When you pick a quarterback or anybody in the first round, it means something,” Flacco said this offseason. Over the previous 10 drafts, every one of the 27 quarterbacks selected in the first round had started either in his first or second year in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. How fast is that clock ticking for Flacco? It depends on his play this season and Jackson’s development. Flacco could be the next Alex Smith or remain Baltimore’s starter for the next couple of seasons.
Katherine Terrell, Cincinnati Bengals reporter: Browns coach Hue Jackson. There’s no question Jackson’s seat is on fire after winning only one game in his first two seasons. Jackson was given another year by owner Jimmy Haslam, but with a new general manager, the leash probably is going to be pretty short, especially since the front office has made a number of moves that signal their intention to start winning now. With such an infusion of talent on the roster, there's hardly any excuses left for the coaching staff if the team doesn't improve. If Jackson can’t pull off some wins in the first month, he could be on the outside looking in by midseason.
Pat McManamon, Cleveland Browns reporter: Flacco. Consider these numbers: Since winning the Super Bowl in 2012, Flacco has gone 38-36 as a starter. He has gone from eighth in Total QBR in 2014 to 25th to 19th to 23rd last season. His passer rating last season was 80.4, 25th in the league. His yards per attempt has dropped from 7.2 in 2014 to 6.1 to 6.0 to 5.3 and last in the NFL in 2017. Then his team drafted a quarterback in the first round. Flacco has thrown for almost 36,000 yards and completed 62 percent in his career, but he also has lived off his Super Bowl season while his numbers have dropped. Some of his production could be the players around him, but when a team drafts a Lamar Jackson in the first round it’s a signal to the starter that production best improve.
Jeremy Fowler: Pittsburgh Steelers reporter: Jackson. It’s Hue Jackson, and no one else comes close. John Harbaugh might be feeling modest heat in Baltimore, but Jackson is a 1-4 start away from a scorching bottom. One victory over two seasons affords Jackson little grace among Cleveland Browns fans, especially with John Dorsey’s front-office regime intact for the foreseeable future. Most of Jackson’s AFC North peers are on safe footing. The Mike Tomlin-Kevin Colbert tandem is firmly entrenched in Pittsburgh, Marvin Lewis keeps putting out flames in Cincinnati, and Eric DeCosta is set to succeed Ozzie Newsome as Ravens general manager. Only sizable improvement in year three will save Jackson’s job. The Browns roster is better now and should compete.