0-Day NFL Warning: The NFL DEFCON Scale

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We’re finally here. After 113 days, the NFL kicks off tonight, and what better way to celebrate than by considering what might go horribly, horribly wrong for every single franchise. Every football season comes with the sort of major surprises none of us saw coming, and often, that involves a few teams that run into enough problems to see their entire season torpedoed. Last year, it was the Eagles, who shipped Andy Reid out of town despite nine trips to the playoffs since 2000.

Figuring out which franchises may be willing to blow it all up if things go south is a matter of looking at just how stable its leadership is. In order to take stock of where each NFL team sits, and figure out who’s closest to punching in the launch codes, we’re looking at the head coach and general manager for every franchise, how long they’ve been in place, and what that means for the panic level of both ownership and a team’s fan base. (Just a reminder, the lower the DEFCON level, the more on alert everyone should probably be.)

32. Baltimore Ravens

Head coach: John Harbaugh (6 years)
General manager/King: Ozzie Newsome (12 years)

Assuming Newsome is mortal, this photo should be etched into his tombstone:

Flacco

DEFCON: 11

31. San Francisco 49ers

Head coach: Jim Harbaugh (3)
General manager: Trent Baalke (3)

Who’s got it better than them? Pretty much nobody. In two seasons, Harbaugh’s been to the playoffs twice and the Super Bowl once. Baalke was named general manager in 2011, but he first oversaw San Francisco’s draft in 2010. The haul from his first two drafts: Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, Navorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, and Colin Kaepernick, who might be the worst player in that group.

DEFCON: 5

30. Green Bay Packers

Head coach: Mike McCarthy (8)
General manager/Sorcerer: Ted Thompson (9)

There’s a reason Thompson disciples (Reggie McKenzie, John Dorsey, John Schneider) are running teams throughout the league, and whatever you think of McCarthy, Green Bay has been a fixture in the playoffs. He’d need a couple seriously rough years before the Packers thought about a change (defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who was lambasted following the January debacle in San Francisco last season, is the one who might be gone if Green Bay struggles again in the playoffs).

DEFCON: 5

29. Seattle Seahawks

Head coach: Pete Carroll (4)
General manager: John Schneider (4)

Tony Romo will make 50 times what Russell Wilson makes this season.

28. New England Patriots

Head coach: Bill Belichick (14)
General manager: Bill Belichick (14)

Any concerns about whether Belichick lost a step might be gone by the time Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones finish their second season. The defensive back drafting has been abysmal, but Belichick has found at least one high-level starter (Jerod Mayo, Sebastian Vollmer, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Nate Solder, Stevan Ridley) in his past five drafts. He’ll be in charge for the Pats as long as he wants to be.

DEFCON: 5

27. Denver Broncos

Head coach: John Fox (3)
General manager: John Elway (3)

For as long as Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning, there’s really nothing to worry about. Also, Elway’s first draft netted Von Miller. At no. 2 overall, it wasn’t exactly a find, but this isn’t about assessing front office success. I’m pretty sure that Broncos fans are feeling OK these days.

DEFCON: 5

26. New York Giants

Head coach: Tom Coughlin (10)
General manager: Jerry Reese (7)

The only reason change might soon be coming for the Giants is that Coughlin is 67 years old, which actually seems young. Reese has won two Super Bowls in his seven seasons, and although he hasn’t drafted all that well, New York seems to hang around in the contender conversation every year.

DEFCON: 5

25. Pittsburgh Steelers

Head coach: Mike Tomlin (7)
General manager: Kevin Colbert (3; sort of)

The Tomlin-Colbert pairing belongs right alongside what the Giants have done. Colbert was named general manger in 2010, but he’s been running Pittsburgh’s front office for nearly 15 years — most of which have been spent populating the Steelers with championship-level talent. Like McCarthy in Green Bay, Tomlin’s past successes far outweigh the recent stumbles.

DEFCON: 5

24. New Orleans Saints

Head coach: Sean Payton (8)
General manager: Mickey Loomis (12)

I don’t know if any coach has ever proven his worth by doing absolutely nothing the way Payton did last season. What the Saints did last year may have given him more capital in New Orleans than winning the Super Bowl did.

DEFCON: 5

23. Atlanta Falcons

Head coach: Mike Smith (6)
General manager: Thomas Dimitroff (6)

If Seattle finishes off that fourth quarter in Atlanta, the Falcons are much higher on this list. It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Bobby Petrino was leaving notes in lockers, but the Mike Smith tenure had been going on for some time without any playoff success to show for it. Getting a play or two from the Super Bowl should buy Smith at least a couple of more years, but if Atlanta happens to miss the playoffs in an improved division, the rumblings may start.

What’s most unfair in that scenario is that this may be the season the Falcons should disappoint, based on their personnel. Dimitroff has done an excellent job, for the most part, but up front, the Falcons are lacking on both sides of the ball and don’t seem to have a plan in place for either. For now, though, Matt Ryan and that offense are plenty for Dimitroff and Falcons’ fans to hang their hats on.

DEFCON: 4

22. Kansas City Chiefs

Head coach: Andy Reid (1)
General manager: John Dorsey (1)

21. St. Louis Rams

Head coach: Jeff Fisher (2)
General manager: Les Snead (2)

The Missouri football clubs are both in better hands than they were three years ago. Fisher and Reid have established track records of success, and the Chiefs, thanks to better talent, should see an even bigger jump in Reid’s first year than the Rams did with Fisher. With all the picks from the Robert Griffin III trade, the hope for St. Louis is to put together the type of defensive group the Chiefs have compiled in recent years.

The issue for both teams will be how they handle the quarterback situation moving forward. Alex Smith was a good solution for the short term in Kansas City, and the Chiefs should know quickly whether he’s the answer for the next several years. In St. Louis, that question is more pressing. With Sam Bradford nearing the end of his rookie contract, the Rams have done everything they can to surround him with enough talent to see if he’s worth a long-term investment.

DEFCON: 4

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Head coach: Greg Schiano (2)
General manager: Mark Dominik (5)

Few executives have been able to improve a team away from the draft the way Dominik has in the past two years. Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks (pending his health), Darrelle Revis, and Dashon Goldson should all play a huge role in what Tampa Bay does this year. And that isn’t to say Dominik hasn’t drafted well as of late. Last year’s haul of Doug Martin, Mark Barron, and Lavonte David should give the Bucs three very good starters by the end of this season.

For Schiano, it’s mostly been about not being Raheem Morris. He’s done a great job with that.

19. Chicago Bears

Head coach: Marc Trestman (1)
General manager: Phil Emery (2)

The only person at risk of losing his job in Chicago right now is Jay Cutler. Emery’s choice to wait on extending the Bears quarterback is a sign that he wants to see whether Cutler can work with Trestman moving forward. If not — and with many veteran deals set to expire at the end of this season — Chicago will be starting over, with Emery allowed to remake the franchise as he sees fit.

DEFCON: 4

18. Minnesota Vikings

Head coach: Leslie Frazier (3)
General manager: Rick Spielman (2)

Like so many other teams, the question about the Vikings and their future is at quarterback. Spielman has already done an excellent job bringing in plenty of high-level young talent (Matt Kalil last season, three first-round picks this year), and if Christian Ponder struggles again this season, it will probably be time to move on. It hurts to trade a player like Percy Harvin, but without any leverage, the Vikings did the only thing they could. Spielman is building something in Minnesota. He just needs a different quarterback to see it through.

DEFCON: 4

17. Cincinnati Bengals

Head coach: Marvin Lewis (11)
General manager: Mike Brown (Unclear)

Add the Bengals to the Vikings, Bears, and Bucs group — only better. What Lewis and Mike Zimmer — actually, let’s address that. What does Mike Zimmer need to do to get a head coaching job? I’m looking forward to Norv Turner going for his fourth spin, or Mike Mularkey for his third, before Zimmer gets a team.

Anyway, what Lewis and Zimmer have done to the Bengals defense, with very few high draft picks, has been remarkable. We may reach a certain point soon — maybe as soon as this year — where the question becomes about what the ceiling of a Marvin Lewis team is, but it’s not Lewis’s fault that Andy Dalton is his quarterback. This season will be a pivotal one for Dalton, who’s in control of one of the more talented rosters in the league.

The Bengals front office is a confusing jumble of titles, a result of Brown serving as the owner, GM, and overlord of the franchise. Duke Tobin took over as the director of player personnel following long-time director of football operations Jim Lippincott’s retirement, and he’s now overseen two Bengals drafts. The decisions, though, are up to Brown, and at this point, he’ll have a harder time getting rid of Lewis than he would have in the past.

DEFCON: 4

16. Washington Redskins

Head coach: Mike Shanahan (4)
General manager: Bruce Allen (4)

Shanahan and Robert Griffin III may have had their disagreements in the past year, but I’m guessing Shanahan is thankful every night that he doesn’t have to consider what life would’ve been like without his new quarterback. However long Shanahan’s leash was in Washington before last season, it’s about three times that length now — a product of both Griffin and choosing to install an offense that best used him. For a long time, the Redskins were the model of how not to run an NFL franchise, in terms of crazy spending and trading first-round draft picks like pogs, but after this season, the cap penalties handed down in 2010 will be lifted, and they’ll actually have some money to play with. They’ll need to pay Brian Orakpo with some of it, but for the first time in a while, the Redskins may have some leeway in free agency. They’re not set up nearly as well as some of the teams above them on this list, but having the quarterback in place goes a long way.

DEFCON: 4

15. Indianapolis Colts

Head coach: Chuck Pagano (2)
General manager: Ryan Grigson (2)

If the Redskins do choose to spend a little to surround their young quarterback, they should look at what the Colts did this offseason — and do the exact opposite. Indianapolis looked at its surprise playoff berth from a year ago and decided it was a team on the edge of contention, rather than a flawed group that got very lucky. The result was a slew of high-priced free agents (namely Erik Walden and Gosder Cherilus) who may prove a bit too costly in the future. Even with that in mind, Luck will give Grigson a free pass for at least a few years.

DEFCON: 3

14. Buffalo Bills

Head coach: Doug Marrone (1)
General manager: Doug Whaley (1)

13. Cleveland Browns

Head coach: Rob Chudzinski (1)
General manager: Mike Lombardi (1)

12. Jacksonville Jaguars

Head coach: Gus Bradley (1)
General manager: David Caldwell (1)

11. Arizona Cardinals

Head coach: Bruce Arians (1)
General manager: Steve Keim (1)

10. San Diego Chargers

Head coach: Mike McCoy (1)
General manager: Tom Telesco (1)

All of the “reset button” franchises probably belong in a similar state of non-panic. Buffalo may be in the best position, only because it at least has an idea of where the future may be at quarterback. For Cleveland and Jacksonville, it’s about evaluating the high-priced investment made by someone else, and in San Diego and Arizona, it’s really just an issue of going in a different direction when it becomes available. I’d be surprised if everyone in each of these spots didn’t have at least two seasons to see what happens.

DEFCON: 3

9. Houston Texans

Head coach: Gary Kubiak (8)
General manager: Rick Smith (8)

It’s hard to say that a coach who turned around a franchise and has been to the playoffs two seasons in a row is on notice, but Kubiak just might be. Smith has spent the majority of his tenure in Houston assembling one of the more talented rosters in the entire league (finding J.J. Watt helps), and if the Texans are again bounced from the playoffs in embarrassing fashion, the questions may start about whether Kubiak and Matt Schaub are the right guys for the job.

DEFCON: 2

8. Oakland Raiders

Head coach: Dennis Allen (2)
General manager: Reggie McKenzie (2)

The Raiders are only this high because there is a very good chance they finish as the worst team in the league. It’s probably difficult as an owner to watch a team end up with the no. 1 pick and stand pat with your general manager and head coach, but in this situation, it’s what Oakland should do. McKenzie was brought in from Green Bay to start things over in Oakland, and really, that can only start next season. The Raiders have about $50 million in dead money on their cap this season, and if they really want to give McKenzie a shot, they’ll give him through at least next offseason to figure this all out. Allen, brought in with McKenzie, should get the same chance. Oakland may finish 0-16, but that has little to do with who’s in charge right now.

DEFCON: 2

7. Philadelphia Eagles

Head coach: Chip Kelly (1)
General manager: Howie Roseman (4)

If we’re handing out blame for the past two seasons in Philadelphia, Roseman probably deserves just as much as Andy Reid. All three of Roseman’s high-profile signings from the 2011 offseason — Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, and Jason Babin — are no longer in Philadelphia. If the Eagles struggle in Kelly’s first year, Roseman might be (and probably should be) the one who goes.

DEFCON: 2

6. Miami Dolphins

Head coach: Joe Philbin (2)
General manager: Jeff Ireland (6)

Going 7-9 last year was apparently enough for Ireland to decide that he’s all-in. After handing Mike Wallace a big free-agent deal (a year after trading Brandon Marshall), Ireland traded into the top three of this year’s draft to take Dion Jordan — whose actual role within the Dolphins defense remains unclear. Ryan Tannehill was promising as a rookie, and hopefully with another year under Philbin, he’ll turn into a quarterback the Dolphins want moving forward. The Dolphins made the moves this offseason of a team that’s close, and if by season’s end, they still aren’t, it will likely be on Ireland.

DEFCON: 2

5. Tennessee Titans

Head coach: Mike Munchak (3)
General manager: Ruston Webster (2)

Titans owner Bud Adams is 90 years old, and he’s in a hurry. Adams made his displeasure known near the end of last season, and my guess is that the Titans’ spending spree this offseason was done with at least some influence from the man in charge. Andy Levitre, brought in from Buffalo on a massive new contract, is a good player, and Bernard Pollard should be fine, but with Jake Locker at quarterback, the Titans’ ceiling is only so high. Really, the Titans should be closer to the Vikings–Christian Ponder area of this list, but I don’t think there’s nearly as much patience with the overall structure in Tennessee. Another losing season is probably the end for Munchak.

DEFCON: 1

4. Dallas Cowboys

Head coach: Jason Garrett (3)
General manager/Snake oil salesman: Jerry Jones (eternity)

Everything about this offseason in Dallas has pointed to this being Garrett’s last stand with the Cowboys. Tony Romo’s massive contract extension is proof that Dallas really does think he’s the answer at quarterback, and delineating play-calling duties to Bill Callahan is a move that ultimately will be laid at Garrett’s feet. The Cowboys would be higher on this list if Jones could fire himself — something that at this point, seems like something he might manage to do.

DEFCON: 1

3. Carolina Panthers

Head coach: Ron Rivera (3)
General manager: Dave Gettleman (1)

This is a similar scenario to the one in New York, which we’ll get to in a second. Gettleman spent the past decade as the director of pro personnel with the Giants, and someone with experience in that sort of environment is likely going to want his own coach in place. It’s a tenuous position, being the incumbent head coach for a new general manager. Lovie Smith won 10 games last season but still lost his job because there was a new guy in charge who wanted to build a franchise the way he saw fit. There’s a chance that Carolina finishes 8-8 and actually looks like a team on the rise, but even if it does, I think it’s more likely that’s seen as the product of a talented young roster (especially on defense) that could be even better with new leadership.

DEFCON: 1

2. New York Jets

Head coach: Rex Ryan (5)
General manager: John Idzik (1)

The Jets should be no. 1, but hear me out. In Detroit, there’s at least a chance (a decent one, actually) that a bad year could cost both the head coach and GM their jobs. In New York, the GM, in his first season, is safe. It’s just that any type of season is costing the head coach his job.

I can’t remember a time when a coach’s firing seemed so inevitable, but no one actually considered it the coach’s fault. Ryan should spend the season figuring out which defensive coordinator job he wants next year, mostly because it’s easier to start with a list of teams that wouldn’t fire their guy if they knew they could get him (Dick LeBeau, Mike Zimmer, end of list — OK, there may be a couple more, but not many).

DEFCON: 1

1. Detroit Lions

Head coach: Jim Schwartz (5)
General manager: Martin Mayhew (5)

It can all change so fast in the NFL. Two years ago, the Lions were the league’s best reclamation story — from 0-16 to the playoffs in just three years. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson were the league’s next big things, and Ndamukong Suh was poised to be a one-man wrecking crew for the next decade. Then Detroit followed up its 10-6 season with a 4-12 finish, one that included a series of mental blunders and rampant discipline problems — both on and off the field. NFL teams have won plenty of games while employing less-than-perfect citizens, but Detroit’s issues have spilled onto the field in ways that have been detrimental. That, and losing games by challenging plays he can’t, is on Schwartz.

Mayhew may get a pass by virtue of not being Matt Millen (and really, the Lions have hit on three of their past four first-round picks, although picking in the top two tends to help), but if Schwartz and the Lions go through another season like they did last year, it’s likely over for him in Detroit.

DEFCON: 1

Filed Under: Jim Harbaugh, NFL, Rex Ryan, Robert Mays

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Robert Mays is a staff writer at Grantland.

Archive @ realrobertmays