Steve Spagnuolo is arguably the best defensive coordinator in the NFL. He's also somebody whose creative play-calling can transform the Washington Commanders.
All signs point toward Detroit Lions' offensive coordinator Ben Johnson replacing Ron Rivera. Still, the Washington Commanders should pause long enough to interview Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
He boasts a CV at least equal to any of the rising assistants vying for top jobs this offseason. Spanguolo is also somebody with an edge over many of the other candidates.
Namely, his experience as a head coach. Spagnguolo spent three seasons in charge of the then-St. Lous Rams from 2009-11. The 64-year-old also had a four-game stint as interim boss for Washington's NFC East rival New York Giants in 2017.
A win-loss record of 11-41 should make the Commanders run screaming to the hills. Yet there are compelling reasons new general manager Adam Peters should still have a conversation.
Steve Spagnuolo has been around winning programs
Gloss over his miserable time with the Rams - and a dire single-season running the defense for the New Orleans Saints in 2013 - Spagnuolo has spent the majority of his career on winning programs with the Chiefs, Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Baltimore Ravens.
He's one of only three defensive coordinators with a hat-trick of Super Bowl rings, per Football Perspective.
He learned defense on the watch of the late Jim Johnson with the Eagles. Spagnuolo coached the secondary and helped develop Brian Dawkins into a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
The Eagles went to five NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl on the strength of Johnson's defenses. It helped Spagnuolo tailor coverage to the blitz-heavy schemes he used up front.
That experience came in handy when Spagnuolo became defensive coordinator for the Giants in 2007. His first season culminated with a masterful game plan to confuse and batter Tom Brady, contributing to New York upsetting the 18-0 New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
When asked back in 2018 about how he did it, Spagnuolo told Good Morning Football that disguised coverage was key:
It's fitting Spagnuolo used disguised coverages to fool Brady. He's still playing tricks in the secondary to help the Chiefs keep quarterbacks guessing.
Steve Spagnuolo's creativity would revive Commanders' defense
Two defensive-minded coaches like Rivera and Jack Del Rio failed to field a credible unit in four years. That would change with Spagnuolo at the helm. His mercurial use of pressure and coverage makes his defenses proactive.
The Chiefs force the issue, rather than let offenses dictate. They tricked Tua Tagovailoa into an interception with this elaborate safety rotation, highlighted by Ted Nguyen of The Athletic, against the Miami Dolphins in the wildcard playoff round.
Plays like this are why the Chiefs ranked second in both yards and points allowed this season. Spagnuolo's group has carried last season's Super Bowl champions while Patrick Mahomes and the offense have uncharacteristically sputtered.
Sleight of hand in the secondary isn't the only reason the Chiefs have won two Super Bowls with Spagnuolo. Creating free lanes on blitz pressure has also helped.
Next Gen Stats noted how "The Chiefs defense led the league in unblocked pressures during the regular season (73)."
Unblocked pressures were a rare species under Rivera and Del Rio. Their scheme was dull as dishwater. Just a lot of four-man rush with soft zones behind it.
That bare-bones approach works with elite talent. When a unit is less than elite in some areas (looking at you, linebackers), a defense needs some X's and O's magic.
Nobody provides more than Spagnuolo. He'd fix the No. 32-ranked unit in the NFL and trust a capable coordinator, maybe even former Chiefs coaching counterpart Eric Bieniemy, to manage an offense with more than a few playmakers.
That wouldn't be a problem for Spagnuolo, who has worked with a high-round draft pick at football's most important position before.
Steve Spagnuolo can develop young Commanders QBs
The Rams drafted Sam Bradford No. 1 overall in 2010 and Spagnuolo started the rookie right away. He threw for 3,512 yards and 18 touchdowns, guiding his team to a 7-9 record, a six-game swing from the coach's first season.
It wasn't enough to beat the Seattle Seahawks to the NFC West title. They secured the division and a playoff berth on tiebreakers, but a whisker either way and Spagnuolo would have been leading a first-year quarterback into the postseason.
Significantly, the Seahawks were coached by Pete Carroll, another former defensive coordinator who needed more than one chance to make the grade as a head coach. Disappointing stints with the New York Jets and Patriots didn't deter the Seahawks. He eventually brought the franchise its only Super Bowl title.
Spagnuolo couldn't get it right the first time, but he's spent his career around Super Bowl-winning coaches - Andy Reid, John Harbaugh, and Tom Coughlin. His exciting playbook would finally give the Commanders a defense capable of preventing and making big plays while working with a rookie quarterback would be nothing new.
They're three reasons compelling enough for Peters to sit down and talk before trying to sell Johnson on the job.