NFL hot seat: Which coaches should be safe despite losing record?

By David Kenyon

Exactly half of the 32 NFL teams have a losing record, but a few coaches should avoid the dreaded hot seat.

Although the 2016 offseason should bring widespread changes around the league, four coaches have either shown enough progress to keep their job or encountered uncontrollable circumstances that don’t call for a firing.

This year, it’s good to have a name that starts with “J.”

John Harbaugh, Baltimore Ravens

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Injuries have destroyed John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens, who are perhaps the league’s unluckiest team in 2015.

Quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Justin Forsett, wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., center Jeremy Zuttah and defensive leader Terrell Suggs have each sustained season-ending ailments. First-round pick Breshad Perriman hasn’t played at all.

No wonder each of Baltimore’s eight losses are by eight points or less. In other words, the Ravens are regularly one play removed from a win every single week. That’s unfortunate, but it’s fixable.

Harbaugh’s contract runs through the 2017 season. Baltimore has no obvious reason to make a change before then.

Jack Del Rio, Oakland Raiders

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Oakland is basically eliminated from playoff contention, but the team has taken a couple terrific steps forward under Jack Del Rio.

Second-year quarterback Derek Carr has made the leap and established himself as the franchise quarterback. Plus, the Raiders — who haven’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2005 — are on the verge of both Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree eclipsing the mark.

Although the defense needs improvements, Oakland invested early-round picks in Khalil Mack and Mario Edwards Jr., also signing Malcolm Smith. Replenishing the unit isn’t a one-year process, and the Raiders are steadily building depth.

Before 2015, Oakland hadn’t won five games during any of the last four seasons. Del Rio is on the right track.

John Fox, Chicago Bears

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Instead of worrying about the hot seat, Bears fans should be concerned about John Fox’s assistants receiving head-coaching offers.

Offensive coordinator Adam Gase has helped quarterback Jay Cutler put together one of his most efficient years, even overcoming Alshon Jeffery’s extended absence and first-round pick Kevin White’s lost season.

On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has turned the Bears into an average unit. Considering the Chicago finished 30th or worse in both points and yards allowed in 2013 and 2014, average is a massive accomplishment.

Thanks to Fox and his assistants, the Bears are trending up.

Jay Gruden, Washington football team

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Controversy will continue to surround the franchise, but Jay Gruden shouldn’t be the target of change.

Now, that doesn’t mean Gruden isn’t feeling pressure to win. Washington is tied for the NFC East lead with a 5-7 record, so a division crown is perfectly within reach. A late-season collapse could warm Gruden’s proverbial seat.

But even if Washington misses the playoffs at 7-9, could the team really fire someone who guided the franchise to its second-best season since 2008? Additionally, Gruden’s has three years remaining on a fully guaranteed $20 million contract.

Gruden’s ceiling probably falls short of a Super Bowl. But the organization is hardly familiar with attaining mediocrity, and he’d be an expensive man to fire. For better or worse, Gruden should be safe for 2016.