Jim Caldwell’s it-is-what-it-is approach to his current employment situation in Detroit serves as a reminder of a periodic hot take that often bubbles up for me whenever a good coach closes in on the completion of his contract: When will a coach treat the looming expiration of his deal as a shot at free agency?
Rarely if ever does an NFL head coach: (1) finish every game of his contract; and (2) inform the NFL, “I’m available to the highest bidder.”
When Jason Garrett’s contract expired in Dallas after a Final Eight season in 2014, he could have made the Vince-McMahon-strutting-GIF move to another city, but he truly didn’t want to leave the Cowboys. Last summer, with both coach Pete Carroll and G.M. John Schneider entering contract years, they could have individually or collectively said, “Hey, Rams! Interested?” after the 2016 season ended.
They opted instead to re-up.
For whatever reason, coaches (and General Managers) never bet on themselves in that way, choosing the sure thing over the shot in the dark. Maybe they’re conservative by nature when it comes to the knowledge that large amounts of money will continue to flow to the bank account beyond the current year. Maybe they have a hard time assessing their own potential value objectively. Maybe they fear that the jobs that become available are available not because the current coach stinks, but because the organization does.
Regardless, there’s never been a head coach who says, “I don’t want a new contract for now. I want to hit the open market next year.” Maybe Caldwell, if he takes the Lions to the playoffs again without an extension before the season ends, will hit the open market without making the declaration in advance.
And maybe the boss of the Lions will become the first NFL head coach to walk into free agency like the boss of the WWE.