IT'S FIRING SEASON in the NFL. The Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills and Los Angeles Rams already have canned their head coaches, and as many as four other teams could follow suit next week.
That will be followed by the hiring season where teams with vacancies compete for the "hot" coaching candidates.
The names on a team's short list are likely to include former head coaches and up-and-coming offensive and defensive coordinators. Names not likely to be on that list: special-teams coordinators.
When his Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl four years ago, head coach John Harbaugh, who spent nine seasons coaching the Eagles' special teams, thought it would kick the door open for other special-teams coaches to get serious consideration for head jobs.
He thought wrong.
"I'm shocked that more (special teams) guys haven't gotten the opportunity," Harbaugh said.
That's unfortunate for the league's top special-teams coaches. Guys like the Chiefs' Dave Toub and the Ravens' Jerry Rosburg.
And the Eagles' Dave Fipp.
Fipp's special-teams units have been among the best in the league the last three years. If the Eagles' offense or defense had performed at the same high level that their special teams have, Frank Reich and Jim Schwartz would have their pick of head-coaching jobs.
Fipp? The 42-year-old Eagles assistant probably won't even get invited for an interview, which is a shame.
"For whatever reason, I think sometimes special teams gets kind of snubbed a little bit, and it's unfortunate because there are some great special teams coaches in the league," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "Every year, these guys kind of get overlooked."
Owners covet the young offensive geniuses and the shrewd defensive generals who can beat protections and put quarterbacks on their butt. But the truth is special teams may be the best training ground of all for an NFL head coach.
"I think Dave is very capable," Pederson said. "Next to myself, he's the next coach on the staff that really is in front of the whole team, talking and coordinating meetings and things of that nature.
"I think he'd be right for a (head-coaching) job or for an opportunity. He's very detailed in his work. He's very thorough in his work. He gets the guys to practice fast. He keeps things very simple for the guys and (allows them) to execute and go out and play the scheme fast and aggressively.''
Eagles special-teams standout Chris Maragos feels Fipp is more than qualified to be a head coach.
"A special-teams coach really has his hand on every team on the roster," he said. "You've got to coach a punter differently than you coach a defensive tackle. To know how to maneuver and do that (isn't easy).
"At the end of the day, a head coach is going to hire coordinators to run their offense and their defense. Yeah, they may have more influence on one side of the ball than the other. But at the end of the day, (a head coach) is an overseer. You're a leader as a head coach. A CEO. He would fit that role perfectly. He would be a great coach."
Tight end Trey Burton, another key member of the Eagles' special teams, couldn't agree more.
"Fipp deserves a shot," he said. "I think somebody would be extremely smart to at least bring him in for an interview and hear him out."
Added Maragos: "The problem is people look at special teams as an afterthought. Everybody does. But look at what we've done the last three years. It's literally won us ballgames consistently year after year and set up our team to win on offense and defense."'
The one downside to signing an $18 million-a-year contract like Fletcher Cox did last summer is that people sort of expect you to put up $18 million-a-year statistics.
With one game left in the season, Cox has 6 1/2 sacks, which is three fewer than he had last year when he was making considerably less money. His 21 hurries are 11 fewer than last year. His one forced fumble is two fewer than he had a year ago.
If Cox's big-money contract didn't get the attention of opposing offenses, the four sacks he recorded in the Eagles' first four games this season certainly did. Since then, the Pro Bowl defensive tackle has spent just about every play of every game with a double-team escort.
"I started off hot," Cox said. "At that point, I wasn't getting a lot of slide (protection). I was seeing a lot of one-on-ones. I was creating a lot of disruption.
"But then teams started scheming with their slide protection. The whole defensive line started getting a lot more attention. Early in the year, we were getting after the quarterback. Either hitting him or sacking him. Then teams started doing the seven-man protection and finding ways to get rid of the ball fast."
After recording his fourth sack against Detroit in Week 5, Cox went eight games without another one. The drought finally ended in Week 14 when he had 1 1/2 sacks in a loss to Washington.
"When some guys get a little more attention than other guys, it gives an opportunity for other guys in the (defensive line) room to step up," Cox said. The problem is, other than defensive end Brandon Graham, who has just 5 1/2 sacks but is among the league leaders in hurries with 29, there wasn't a lot of stepping up by other people.
Cox also said it took him a little while to adjust to the move back to a 4-3 from the 3-4 he played in the last three years, though his fast early-season start doesn't really seem to support that.
"There's always an adjustment," he said. "As I grow back into a 4-3 scheme, I played in it my whole career. But I didn't the last three years. That takes away from a whole lot of the process of learning the attack-style defense Jim (Schwartz) likes."
* Tight end Brent Celek will turn 32 in January. He has a career-low 13 receptions. He has played just 39 percent of the offensive snaps, down from 52 percent last season and 69 percent the year before. He has a $5 million cap number in 2017.
Those are all valid reasons for thinking Celek won't be back with the Eagles next season.
But here are a couple of reasons to believe he will be back. For one, he's still one of the league's better blocking tight ends. For another, one of the bright spots of the Eagles' offense this season has been their success out of three-tight-end sets with Celek, Zach Ertz and Trey Burton.
The Eagles used "13'' personnel - one running back, three tight ends and one wide receiver - 104 times this season. Their running backs averaged 4.8 yards per carry out of it. Quarterback Carson Wentz completed 28 of 35 passes for 273 yards and four touchdowns.
"We've got three really good tight ends," Celek said. "If they want to go nickel against us (five defensive backs), there's problems for them. If they want to go base, there's problems for them. Hopefully, we continue to keep using it."
Celek said he is not ready to retire, and hopes to be back with the Eagles.
"I definitely know I'm going to play another year," he said. "I hope and plan and expect to be here. But this is the NFL, so you never know."
* As most Eagles fans know, Carson Wentz is an avid hunter. So it should have come as no surprise that he bought each of his offensive linemen a shotgun. "Hey, the man wanted to get us a shotgun, so he got us a shotgun," right tackle Lane Johnson said. "He's a different breed. I'm not complaining. I'm lucky I got anything at all."
Johnson, of course, is referring to the fact that he missed 10 games this season serving his second PED suspension. If he tests positive again, he'll get the hook for two years.
That means he has to be very, very careful about what he puts in his mouth going forward.
"Just food and water," he said, sort of joking but sort of not. "All of those vitamins and crap are a no-go."
Johnson's linemate, center Jason Kelce, said recently that the right tackle is such a freak athlete that "he could probably eat at McDonald's and go out there and dominate on Sunday."
Johnson isn't sure that would be such a good training regimen.
"I'd look like a damn pregnant possum if I ate at McDonald's every day," he said. Then he got serious, because the truth is, he's scared to death of how close he is to losing his career and tens of millions of dollars.
"To be honest, I make a lot of humor out of it," he said. "But I have to watch what I'm doing. You gotta be paranoid about what you're doing."
FROM THE LIP
* "I'm sure if you ask them (they'd say) they'd play anybody, they don't care. But I'm sure they don't want to see us, that's for sure." - Giants WR Victor Cruz, on the possibility of playing the Patriots in the Super Bowl for the third time in 10 years
* "There is a lot of change. It's frequent and it seems like it is coming earlier and earlier every year. I don't think personally that's the best way to manage a team. But that's really not my call. Some of these guys, they just do whatever they do." - Bill Belichick, on the quick trigger by NFL owners with respect to firing head coaches
* "He's a fierce competitor. There's not a lot of guys that you look down a dark alley and say, 'I want to bring this person, I want to bring that person.' Steve Smith is one of those guys that you better make sure is on your team and not against your team, because I've seen both. And I would prefer him being on my team." - Panthers QB Cam Newton, on WR Steve Smith
BY THE NUMBERS
* Bills running back Reggie Bush has 12 carries for minus-3 yards this season. No running back in NFL history has finished a season with more than 10 carries and had negative rushing yardage.
* Falcons QB Matt Ryan has thrown at least one touchdown pass to 13 players this season. That's the most in league history.
* The Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott needs 69 yards Sunday against the Eagles to become the second rookie in league history with 1,700 rushing yards. He needs 178 to pass Eric Dickerson as the all-time rookie rushing leader.
* If Dak Prescott starts Sunday against the Eagles and the Cowboys win, it would be his 14th win this season as a starting quarterback. That would be the most ever by a rookie QB. Prescott is tied with the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger at 13.
* Carson Wentz has thrown all but two of the Eagles' 566 passes this season. Former Eagles wide receiver Josh Huff attempted one on an option play against the Cowboys in Week 8, and backup quarterback Chase Daniel completed a shovel pass to Ryan Mathews last week against the Giants after Wentz left the game briefly to get checked out for a possible concussion. Wentz is one of 16 quarterbacks in the league who have thrown at least 95 percent of their team's passes this season. The list:
Quarterback: Att. ... Team Att. ... Pct.
Eli Manning NYG. . . 571 571 100.0
Matthew Stafford DET. . . 553 553 100.0
Andy Dalton CIN. . . 535 535 100.0
Drew Brees NO. . . 623 624 99.8
Blake Bortles JAX. . . 586 587 99.8
Kirk Cousins WAS. . . 571 572 99.8
Carson Wentz PHI. . . 564 566 99.6
Philip Rivers SD. . . 540 542 99.6
Matt Ryan ATL. . . 498 501 99.4
Derek Carr OAK. . . 560 564 99.3
Dak Prescott DAL. . . 451 454 99.3
Joe Flacco BAL. . . 623 628 99.2
Tyrod Taylor BUF. . . 436 443 98.4
Aaron Rodgers GB. . . 571 581 98.3
Jameis Winston TB. . . 532 543 98.0
Russell Wilson SEA. . . 514 529 97.2
* The Eagles have used multiple-tight-end formations on 39.3 percent of their offensive plays (395 of 1,005). Their most prevalent personnel grouping, as it is with most teams, has been "11" (1RB, 1TE, 3 WR). They have used it 58.2 percent of the time. Last year, Chip Kelly used "11" personnel 69.7 percent of the time. He used multiple-tight end formations just 26.5 percent of the time. A breakdown of the offensive formations the Eagles have used this season:
WR/RB/TE Total Plays Run Plays Pass Plays
3/ 1/ 1. . . 585 204 381
2/ 1/ 2. . . 277 114 163
1/ 1/ 3. . . 104 68 36
4/ 1/ 0. . . 11 1 10
0/ 2/ 3. . . 11 11 0
3/ 2/ 0. . . 8 4 4
2/ 2/ 1. . . 6 3 3
1/ 2/ 2. . . 3 3 0
* Through 15 games, 53.6 percent of Carson Wentz's passes have traveled five yards or less. He had completed 76.6 percent of those throws and averaged 4.9 yards per attempt.
* Wentz was 1-for-5 for 40 yards with a touchdown and an interception against the Giants on throws of 20 yards or more. For the season, he has completed 20 of 64 passes of 20-plus yards with five touchdown passes and seven of his 14 interceptions.
* With the exception of that three-game stretch against Green Bay, Cincinnati and Washington, the Eagles' four-man pass rush has been pretty effective this season. Jim Schwartz's unit had an 80.6 opponent passer rating with a four-man rush in their first 10 games, and an impressive 55.9 rating the last two weeks against Baltimore and the Giants. Opponents completed just 56.8 percent of their passes in those 12 games when the Eagles have rushed four or less. The Packers, Bengals and Redskins had a combined 136.9 passer rating when the Eagles rushed four or less. Completed 80.9 of their attempts and had five touchdowns and no interceptions.
* Wentz has 16 rushing first downs in 46 rushing attempts. That's the 10th most rushing first downs among NFL quarterbacks. The Bills' Tyrod Taylor has a league-high 34, followed by Colin Kaepernick (28), Cam Newton (27), Aaron Rodgers (23), Dak Prescott (21), Andrew Luck (20), Blake Bortles (19), Russell Wilson (18) and Andy Dalton (17). Wentz, Matthew Stafford and Blaine Gabbert all have 16.
* Wentz is one of 12 quarterbacks taken with one of the first three picks in the draft since 2007. A look at how his rookie numbers compare to the other 11:
Quarterback: GS ... Att. ... Com. Pct. ... YPA ... TD ... Int. ... Rat.
2016 Goff (1). . . 6 185 53.5 5.2 5 7 61.7
2016 Wentz (2). . . 15 564 62.4 6.3 14 14 78.1
2015 Winston (1). . . 16 535 58.3 7.6 22 15 84.2
2015 Mariota (2). . . 12 370 62.2 7.6 19 10 91.5
2014 Bortles (3). . . 13 475 58.9 6.1 11 17 69.5
2012 Luck (1). . . 16 627 54.1 7.0 23 18 76.5
2012 Griffin (2). . . 15 393 65.6 8.1 20 5 102.4
2011 Newton (1). . . 16 517 60.0 7.8 21 17 84.5
2010 Bradford (1). . . 16 590 60.0 6.0 18 15 76.5
2009 Stafford (1). . . 10 377 53.3 6.0 13 20 61.0
2008 Ryan (3). . . 16 434 61.1 7.9 16 11 87.7
2007 Russell (1). . . 1 66 54.5 5.7 2 4 55.9