Russini: What is happening in NFL Week 16 on the coaching carousel and more

Russini: What I’m hearing in NFL Week 16 on the coaching carousel and more

what fun! Christmas came early for this NFL insider after reading through many of your questions left under last weekend’s column, You kept me busy. Many of these hot topics are worth digging on, and like Santa, I couldn’t address every item on the list, but I sure tried.

Let’s begin with the spinning coaching carousel.

There are three head coach openings at this moment — the Chargers, Raiders and Panthers — and I am expecting at least three more, including a surprise firing that seems to happen every year. One that won’t be a surprise is in Washington, as we reported last week that Ron Rivera is expected to be out.

League sources say that all the head coaches in the NFC South are “being evaluated” by ownership, as much has changed this month. Strong finishes will be paramount. Look at Atlanta, where, based on multiple conversations I’ve had this season, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was thought to be safe. But things can change. Owner Arthur Blank said this week he is “committed” to Smith but will “let the season play out and go from there.”

Though I don’t sense panic in Atlanta, Smith needs to show Blank he is the right person to return with strong performances all over the field in the remaining weeks of the season. The owner is 82 years old. He wants to win now. If Smith remains in place, the pressure will be on for the Falcons to get it right at quarterback in the 2024 draft.

Meanwhile, I am curious about the future of Robert Saleh, especially if the Jets look as unprepared Sunday against the 4-11 Commanders as they did against the Dolphins in Week 15. Saleh received a strong public endorsement from Aaron Rodgers this week, but I wonder if the Johnson family would override their star quarterback’s preference. Based on what I’m hearing in the building, this would shock Saleh and company, who believe they’ll be back for 2024.
source said this time Tepper is unlikely to go in that direction.

As owners search to build the right culture, a name that has come up in conversations is Anthony Weaver.

The Ravens assistant head coach and defensive line coach is in his third season in Baltimore, the same team that drafted him as a player in 2002. Weaver has been coaching on the defensive side of the ball for more a decade, working with J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney during their prime years. He’s learned from accomplished leaders like John Harbaugh, Mike Vrabel, Romeo Crennel and Rex Ryan and is known for his likability, work ethic and decisiveness. An NFL executive likened Weaver to a Dan Campbell type who has great discipline. We’ve seen Campbell successfully make the jump from assistant head coach to head coach, and maybe Weaver, also a former player, can bring a team that same fire if gets a shot.

The Hot Names You Know:

Jim Harbaugh, University of Michigan head coach

• Lou Anarumo, Bengals defensive coordinator

• Raheem Morris, Rams defensive coordinator

• Dan Quinn, Cowboys defensive coordinator

The Names You May Not Know:

• Frank Smith, Dolphins offensive coordinator

• Mike Macdonald, Ravens defensive coordinator

• Bobby Slowik, Texans offensive coordinator

• Aaron Glenn, Lions defensive coordinator

Trouble for Tomlin?

Mike Tomlin’s future in Pittsburgh appears to be murky, mostly based on the Steelers’ recent performances against the CardinalsPatriots and Colts, all losses. A turnaround doesn’t look likely before Week 18. The fan base is frustrated, and the team’s play collectively lacks the strong Tomlin passion that we are used to seeing every season.

Tomlin’s contract expires in 2024, and it’s well known the Steelers organization won’t engage in extension talks with players or coaches during the season. So we wait and see. There has been chatter that perhaps the Steelers would consider trading Tomlin to Washington, Chicago or even Carolina to get back some picks. I think that’s a move the Jets should consider if they aren’t sold on their current staff, but I also know the Steelers understand the value of Tomlin in their city.

Now, if you follow along every week, you are probably thinking, “You just told us two weeks ago that it’s not the Steelers’ style to move on! They are patient and cautious!” I will continue to share with you that based on my conversations, there still is a good chance Tomlin is the Steelers’ head coach in 2024.

Fixing the Chiefs

The Chiefs continue to face criticism for their receiving corps, but 2023 was a difficult year to upgrade the position. There was a dearth of younger free agents on the market, and the team spent its money at offensive tackle and restructured Patrick Mahomes’ contract to pay him more than $40 million per year for the next four years. In April, they tried to trade up into the NFL Draft’s first round to get a receiver, according to a league source, but couldn’t get a team to move.

They did find value by trading up in the second round and taking Rashee Rice, who trails only Puka Nacua and Sam LaPorta in receptions among rookies and has seven touchdowns and 754 yards. Look for the Chiefs to try to draft a top receiver this April.

Bucs’ Benjamin Button

The Buccaneers are on a playoff push, and though 10-year veteran wide receiver Mike Evans doesn’t want to distract from their season by discussing his contract, he is up for a payday after another productive season. The Bucs are using Evans in a variety of ways, and he has nine touchdown catches and is on his way to another 1,000-yard receiving season.


Evans started the season as an impending free agent after the Buccaneers decided not to extend him, and based on his performance this year, the price may have gone up. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had two general managers not named Jason Licht share that they believe Evans is playing the best football of his career. And the Bucs want to keep him.


While you are all probably scrambling around more than ever for the holiday, I feel comfortable admitting that while collecting much of this information over the phone with sources around the league, I was in line at HomeGoods, ShopRite and taking pictures with Santa. Thanks to the elf at Paramus Park mall for the pen and paper.


Eat, drink and be merry.

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