5 People on the "Hot Seat" in the NFC South
Updated: Aug 8
The NFL regular season will kick off in approximately 72 days at the time of this writing. This means there are select coaching personnel and players who will have to prove that they belong in the position they are currently in. Which five people are on the hot seat in the NFC South?
5. Baker Mayfield
Mayfield is on his fourth team in three years (Browns ’18-’21, Panthers ’22, Rams ’22) as he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the offseason. The 2018 number one overall pick hasn’t exactly lived up to his draft stock, as he leads the league in interceptions since coming into the NFL in 2018 (64).
The Cleveland Browns, the team that drafted Mayfield, conveyed how much they appreciated his services by signing former Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson to one of the richest contracts in NFL history amid sexual assault allegations while Mayfield was still on the team. That’s got to sting.
To make matters worse, Tampa Bay is giving their 2021 second-round pick Kyle Trask a chance to compete for the starting job. Trask, who played college football at Florida, has played in one career game and has started none. Mayfield, however, led the Browns to their first playoff victory since 1994 in the 2020 postseason.
There is still a chance for Mayfield to turn it all around though. He has four-time bowl wideout Mike Evans, a Second Team All-Pro (2019) wideout in Chris Godwin, a healthy pass catcher in Russell Gage and a promising tight-end in Cade Otton to sling the ball to. Mayfield has the weaponry to thrive.
The 2017 Heisman trophy winner will also have new offensive coordinator and former Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach Dave Canales by his side.
Canales was key to turning around the career of journeyman Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith in 2022. Smith, under the wing of Canales, led the league in completion percentage (69.8 percent) and led Seattle to the postseason with a 9-8 record. Smith also won the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award due to his improved level of play.
Mayfield can follow in Smith’s footsteps and thrive even more perhaps. This could potentially be Mayfield’s last chance to be a starter in the NFL if he doesn’t produce this season.
4. Michael Thomas
Wide receiver Michael Thomas was drafted 47th overall in the 2016 NFL draft by the New Orleans Saints.
Thomas’s best season was in 2019, when he won the NFL Offensive Player of the Year award, thus becoming one of four wideouts to win it in NFL history. Also in 2019, Thomas caught 149 passes (most ever in a single season), garnered 1,725 receiving yards and was a First Team All-Pro selection. Thomas had one of the greatest statistical seasons in history as a wideout.
Since the 2019 season ended, Thomas has played in only ten games. In the 2020 season, Thomas played in only seven games due to an ankle sprain. Thomas underwent ankle surgery during the 2021 offseason and did not play in 2021. In 2022, Thomas played three games after suffering a foot injury in Week 3 and was placed on injured reserve for the rest of the season.
Thomas, 30, signed a one-year deal with the Saints as a “prove it” deal. Thomas will have to prove that he can stay healthy and still be productive with new Saints quarterback Derek Carr at the helm. Along with Thomas are two young talented pass catchers in Chris Olave and Rachid Shaheed. If Olave and Shaheed continue to produce at a high rate and Thomas can’t get through a season without an injury, his time in the “Big Easy” is on borrowed time.
3. Kyle Pitts
Tight-end Kyle Pitts was drafted number four overall in the 2021 NFL draft by the Atlanta Falcons (the highest a tight-end was drafted in NFL history).
In 2021, Pitts became the second rookie tight-end ever to garner 1,000 yards in a season(Mike Ditka 1961). Pitts averaged 15.1 yards per catch (11th overall) and was elected to the pro bowl. The former Florida Gator suffered an MCL injury in week 11 against the Chicago Bears in 2022.
Pitts underwent surgery during the offseason and is reportedly ready for the commencement of the 2023 season. This season will be the first time Pitts will catch passes from Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder. Ridder took over the starting job in week 15 and by then Pitts’s season had already ended.
Pitts will have to prove his 2021 campaign wasn’t a fluke by any means and that he can stay healthy throughout the season. Since Atlanta is putting all their faith in Ridder, Ridder is going to need all the receiver help he can get.
2. Todd Bowles
Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles is coming off an 8-9 losing season despite winning the NFC South in 2022.
Bowles took over the head coaching job in 2022 and signed a five-year deal to stay in Tampa Bay after serving as their defensive coordinator since 2019. He is accredited for his defense in 2020 as they ranked sixth in the league in route to a Super Bowl 55 victory.
Bowles is going from a seven-time super bowl champion quarterback in Tom Brady to two quarterbacks who one of them hasn’t started an NFL game (Trask) and a turnover-prone passer (Mayfield).
Offensive coordinator Canales and Bowles will have to find a way for the offense to work around Mayfield, who will likely win the starting quarterback job. As of right now, the Buccaneers do not have a franchise quarterback and will probably have to look towards the 2024 NFL draft to find that player. Until then, Bowles will have to prove he can win games without one of the greatest of all time at quarterback and the benefit of playing in the worst division in 2022.
1. Dennis Allen
New Orleans Saints head coach Dennis Allen is approaching his second season at the helm in the “Big Easy”. Allen, who formerly coached the Las Vegas Raiders (’12-’14), will have to fill the shoes of former Saints head coach Sean Payton.
Payton, who is the current head coach of the Denver Broncos, led the Saints to three NFC championship game appearances and a Super Bowl 44 victory across a fifteen year span (’06-’21). Allen led the Saints to their first losing season since 2016 in 2022 with a 7-10 record.
Allen is sporting a 15-38 overall head coaching record (Raiders and Saints) and will rely on quarterback Derek Carr to try and save his job. The Saints have a stud defense (ranked fifth in 2022) and a plethora of offensive weaponry in second-year wideouts Olave and Shaheed. In the backfield, he has running backs Jamaal Williams, Alvin Kamara and rookie Kendre Miller.
Allen has the talent and the personnel to succeed in New Orleans. If Allen can’t lead the Saints to a division title or at least a playoff berth in a rebuilding, frail division, Allen’s time in New Orleans may be up come January.