Buccaneers OC Byron Leftwich: The 10-year NFL veteran quarterback was once a backup in Pittsburgh under Bruce Arians, who hired Leftwich as QB coach in Arizona in 2017 and brought him along to Tampa last year. Leftwich, 40, had an uninspiring stint as the interim OC for a doomed Cardinals team two years ago under Arians’ successor, Steve Wilks. But Arians trusted Leftwich enough to make him the play-caller with the Bucs. Leftwich has shown he can manage a room with veterans such as Carson Palmer and Tom Brady, who’s more than two years older than his OC and made a point on Wednesday to tweet that he loves Leftwich. Last week’s blowout loss to the Saints notwithstanding, it’d be a surprise if Leftwich doesn’t have interview requests this cycle.
Clemson OC Tony Elliott: The Panthers did a lot of research last year on Elliott, 40, who declined a formal interview for their head-coaching job. A former Clemson receiver who initially pursued a career in industrial engineering, Elliott is very analytical and cautious. He isn’t going to jump at a job if he doesn’t feel he’s ready. But he has great command of the room, is dynamic and would impress in an interview. He’s innovative on offense, too. He has coached at one of the most successful college programs of the past decade, winning two national titles. Elliott has no NFL experience as a player or coach, but Kliff Kingsbury’s success running a wide-open offense in Arizona after making the jump from college to the pros makes Elliott’s background that much more intriguing. Pairing Elliott with an experienced former head coach could help bridge the gap while he grows into the job.
Giants assistant head coach/DC Patrick Graham: After one season as the Dolphins’ DC, Graham got permission from close friend Brian Flores to take a bigger title and reunite with fellow former Patriots assistant Joe Judge. Graham, 41, has impressed people around the league with how hard and well his Giants defense is playing without a lot of talent. Graham played defensive line at Yale and is now in his 19th year coaching, the past 12 in the NFL (including a Super Bowl XLIX win with New England). He’s passionate, has high expectations and can be hard on players in a way that makes them love him more.
Rams DC Brandon Staley: A former assistant at football coach factory John Carroll University, Staley taught himself Vic Fangio’s defensive scheme years before Fangio gave Staley, now 37, his first NFL job as outside linebackers coach with Chicago in 2017. Staley is thoughtful, detailed and completely obsessed with football. People who have worked with Staley say he’s going to be a head coach — it’s just a matter of readiness. This is still really Staley’s first year in front of the room. But he has the tools.
Panthers OC Joe Brady: At 31, Brady would be one of the youngest NFL head coaches of all time. Four years ago, he was a graduate assistant at Penn State. But Brady’s rise since then — two years as an offensive assistant with Sean Payton’s high-powered Saints, one year helping run the LSU offense that turned Joe Burrow into the No. 1 pick and now as Matt Rhule’s OC in Carolina — means some owner is bound to be intrigued about at least interviewing him. Nobody really questions Brady’s brilliance as an offensive mind. He’s a natural play-caller. He’s humble and engaging. He just hasn’t had a lot of time to absorb all the other responsibilities in management, personnel, etc., that would go into running his own show. This is another guy who could use some help from a former HC while Brady and his program grow together.