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11 Eagles defensive coordinator candidates if Jonathan Gannon isn’t back

Philadelphia might be on to their third DC in three years.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

With rumors that Jonathan Gannon is a strong candidate to land a head coaching job, there’s a decent chance the Philadelphia Eagles will need a new defensive coordinator.

While the Eagles would probably prefer to keep continuity, the reality is there are some good replacement options available to them. Gannon leaving might even be a blessing in disguise with the potential to upgrade on him.

Let’s take a look at some of Philly’s options.

1 - DENNARD WILSON

The Eagles hired Wilson, previously the New York Jets’ defensive passing game coordinator, to be their defensive backs coach last year. Wilson oversaw a position group that included a Pro Bowl resurgence from Darius Slay, a career season from Avonte Maddox, and solid contribution from Steve Nelson. Rookie cornerback Zech McPhearson also showed intriguing potential in training camp.

Slay spoke highly of Wilson late in the regular season:

“I’m not going to sit here and play around. Dennard, man, he’s been a great coach. He helped me elevate my game to a whole ‘nother level. [...] Like I said, I’m just surprised he’s been in the game 15 years and not had a DC job because he’s a smart dude. And he played in this league before so I won’t be surprised if sooner or later he has one of them jobs.”

NFL insider Jason La Canfora also wrote about how Wilson deserves DC consideration:

Any prospective head coach trying to put a staff together or any team looking for a dynamic young defensive coordinator should take a long look at the Eagles’ Dennard Wilson. Wilson is a self-made guy, a hard worker and an under-heralded gem. He didn’t move up the coaching ranks as a secondary coach because of nepotism, or some well-connected agent or the way it works too often in this league. He’s worked under some great coaches, players love him (he played in the NFL), he got a good run coaching college at the time when many of these spread concepts and RPOs were coming in vogue and what I love most about him is that unique background. Wilson has a mix of college and pro background and he also spent four years with the Bears as a scout learning to evaluate talent and understand personnel. Honestly, every rising young coach should strive for that sort of mix. Wilson has coached DBs with the Rams and Jets and is completing his first year with the Eagles. He’s been in the NFL since 2008. He’s served as a passing game coordinator, and he’s ready for a coordinator role.

If the Doug Pederson era was any indication, the Eagles seem prefer internal promotions as opposed to often making outside hires. The idea that the in-house answer is always best can be frustrating/troubling. But, in this case, Wilson should be considered a reasonable candidate. At the very least, he’s deserving of an interview.

2 - VIC FANGIO

Fangio is one of the NFL’s most coveted DC options after being fired by the Broncos. Prior to becoming Denver’s head coach, he oversaw significant defensive improvement in his time with the Chicago Bears. Ranks by DVOA:

2015 — 31st
2016 — 22nd
2017 — 14th
2018 — 1st

Prior to that period, he had success with the San Francisco 49ers:

2011 — 3rd
2012 — 4th
2013 — 13th
2014 — 5th

As a Dunmore, Pennsylvania native (two hours north of Philly), Fangio previously said he grew up as an Eagles fan. Fangio also notably overlapped with Eagles vice president of player personnel Andy Weidl on the Baltimore Ravens from 2006 through 2009. So, perhaps those factors are working in the Eagles’ favor.

A potential drawback to hiring Fangio is that it could create a contentious dynamic similar to the one that existed with Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz. Internally, at least, the latter didn’t seem to always respect the former’s authority. Would Fangio come in and think he knows better than Nick Sirianni?

Fangio’s defensive background (3-4 and 4-3 under) also doesn’t make for a seamless transition. That might be OK if the Eagles are looking to change things up. But it’s possible they want to stick with some of Gannon’s philosophies.

The Eagles might not get a crack at Fangio if Jim Harbaugh returns to the NFL as the Raiders’ head coach. Fangio could easily reunite with Harbs in Las Vegas.

3 - DON “WINK” MARTINDALE

The Ravens and Martindale surprisingly “mutually parted ways” last week.

The Ravens’ defense did disappoint in 2021, finishing as the league’s 28th-ranked unit by DVOA. But Baltimore also had to deal with a ton of defensive back absences due to injuries and COVID. Here’s how the Ravens’ defenses ranked in DVOA prior to last season:

2018 — 4th
2019 — 5th
2020 — 9th

Martindale likes to blitz heavily, which is something I’m not sure the Eagles value in a defensive coordinator. Neither Schwartz nor Gannon were big into doing that.

It could be worth noting that Martindale has a connection to Philly. He overlapped with the aforementioned Weidl in Baltimore from 2012 through May 2016.

4 - BRIAN FLORES

There’s a pretty decent chance Flores lands a head coaching job despite being fired by the Miami Dolphins. If he’s left on the outside looking in, though, the Eagles should be looking into him as a DC.

5 - MIKE ZIMMER

Zimmer’s influence in Gannon’s background seemed to contribute to the Eagles’ interest in making the latter their defensive coordinator. But he’s probably not the most likely candidate for Philly. There’s a lot of talk that Zimmer could return to Dallas if/when the Cowboys lose Dan Quinn to a head coaching job.

6 - PATRICK GRAHAM

Graham is still currently under contract with the New York Giants. But there’s a chance the Giants hire a head coach who has their own vision for defensive coordinator and Graham shakes free. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who know a thing or two about defense, are reportedly interested in Graham. The Eagles should also be looking into him if he’s available. For as bad as the Giants have been in recent years, the defense has arguably been the most respectable thing about the team. Eagles fans should recall the Giants holding Jalen Hurts to two of his worst performances in 2021.

7 - JEROD MAYO

After interviewing for the Eagles’ head coaching job last year, Mayo is generating some more HC buzz this offseason. The New England Patriots’ linebackers coach might not be eager to leave Bill Belichick’s side. Then again, he might realize that Josh McDaniels is Belichick’s most likely successor and Belichick’s two kids (Steve is the de facto DC and defensive play-caller) on staff might get more favor than he ever will. Leaving the Patriots and having success as a defensive coordinator could be the best path for Mayo to strengthen his case as a head coaching candidate.

8 - ALAN WILLIAMS

With Sirianni and Gannon both coming from Indy, it’s possible the Eagles look back to Frank Reich’s coaching staff. Williams rejoined the Colts in 2018 as a defensive backs/safeties coach. He previously served as the Vikings’ defensive coordinator from 2012 through 2013, overseeing some solid but unspectacular units.

9 - TERYL AUSTIN

CBS Sports’ Jonathan Jones said Austin’s name has often been mentioned in the league as a top DC candidate this offseason. Austin offers five years of NFL DC experience and has recently overseen success as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ senior defensive assistant/secondary coach. He was previously on the Eagles’ radar as a head coaching candidate before they hired in 2016. Austin also overlapped with Weidl in Baltimore from 2011 through 2013.

10 - JIM LEONHARD

Leonhard is regarded one of the best assistant coaches in college football. As Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator and defensive back coach, Leonhard was in charge of the nation’s top total defense in 2021. The Badgers previously ranked fifth in 2020 and eight in 2019. Guessing the Eagles won’t be going with someone who’s never coached in the NFL as their DC but Leonhard is an outside-of-the-box candidate worth interviewing at the very least.

11 - JEFF STOUTLAND

Obligatory Juan Castillo joke.

But I feel like we probably don’t talk enough about how insane it was that the Eagles once moved their offensive line coach to DC.

Poll

Who do you want the Eagles to hire for DC?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Dennard Wilson
    (792 votes)
  • 33%
    Vic Fangio
    (1035 votes)
  • 11%
    Don "Wink" Martindale
    (339 votes)
  • 15%
    Brian Flores
    (467 votes)
  • 3%
    Mike Zimmer
    (118 votes)
  • 1%
    Patrick Graham
    (32 votes)
  • 5%
    Jerod Mayo
    (170 votes)
  • 0%
    Alan Williams
    (4 votes)
  • 0%
    Teryl Austin
    (14 votes)
  • 1%
    Jim Leonhard
    (54 votes)
  • 1%
    Other (explain in comments)
    (52 votes)
3077 votes total Vote Now