Opinion: Every newly hired NFL head coach still has at least one question left to answer

Six down, two to go.

This week brought a flurry of NFL coaching hires, with the Cincinnati Bengals and the Miami Dolphins standing as the only teams left with vacancies. But outside of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' hiring of Bruce Arians, it’s hard to see many slam dunks just yet.

These things do often take time – if teams are willing to afford coaches that. But for now, more questions than answers loom over many of the franchises making moves.

I’ve spent the week talking to opposing coaches, team officials and current and former players to build an understanding of each hire and the questions that are still lingering.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Green Bay Packers – Matt LaFleur

The first to be hired this cycle, LaFleur has worked under some talented coaches, including Mike Shanahan, Gary Kubiak, Kyle Shanahan, Dan Quinn and Sean McVay. After one year as the Los Angeles Rams’ offensive coordinator, he jumped to the Tennessee Titans in 2018 so he could gain experience calling plays. 

Biggest question: Does he have what it takes to command the respect of Aaron Rodgers and other established veterans? Some around the league view him as talented but in need of additional seasoning. It would be wise for the team to partner LaFleur, 39, with a well-seasoned top assistant, just as the Rams did for McVay with Wade Phillips. Holdover defensive coordinator Mike Pettine could be critical for that role.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Bruce Arians

Not everyone prizes youth over experience, as the Bucs went for one of most veteran quarterback groomers available in the former Arizona Cardinals coach who retired last year. The 66-year-old Arians has helped guide Ben Roethlisberger, Andrew Luck and an aging Carson Palmer to success.

Biggest question: Can he turn the wildly inconsistent Jameis Winston into an elite quarterback? Arians might be the right guy for the task. The two already have a great relationship. They met when Winston attended Arians' high school football camp in Birmingham, Alabama. Arians could help Winston mature as a person and player — or mold his replacement if it doesn't work out.

Cleveland Browns – Freddie Kitchens

Some expected general manager John Dorsey to tab good friend and former Packers colleague Mike McCarthy for this role. Instead, he went with Kitchens, who capitalized on the promotion from running backs coach to interim offensive coordinator despite having never served as a play-caller.

Biggest question: Can he parlay his short-term success into winning as a head coach in the long haul? Drawing on his diverse coaching background (he coached quarterbacks running backs and tight ends at different points for Arians in Arizona), Kitchen has shown he has a higher ceiling than many believed. He relates well to players, and his fast bond with quarterback Baker Mayfield earned him points. But a lot changes when you go from overseeing one area to the entire operation. 

Denver Broncos – Vic Fangio

The only defensive hire thus far. Well-respected around the league, Fangio, 60, has produced formidable defenses, including a Chicago Bears group this year that allowed the fewest points of any team. Serving in a top job for the first time in his career, he will try to bring the same success to a Broncos squad that has floundered since Peyton Manning retired.

Biggest question: Can he quickly restore the Broncos? John Elway had little patience with Vance Joseph after consecutive losing seasons. Elway wants a quick fix, believing this team isn’t far off from contending. His post-Super Bowl personnel moves haven’t exactly panned out. How much blame Fangio will draw if things don’t change in a hurry?

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