DENVER (AP) — Every year, while a dozen NFL head coaches are preparing their teams for the playoffs, nearly as many coaches are called into their general manager's office and told they're fired for not being one of those dozen coaches who are preparing their teams for the playoffs.
Eight coaches lost their jobs in 2018, including Mike McCarthy in Green Bay and Hue Jackson in Cleveland, long before the holidays rolled around.
A half-dozen more finished the season before getting their walking papers, including Todd Bowles of the Jets and Dirk Koetter of the Buccaneers on Sunday night.
On Monday, they were joined by Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati, Vance Joseph in Denver, Adam Gase in Miami and Steve Wilks in Arizona.
Joseph drew an especially strong reaction in the Broncos' solemn locker room, where players who had fought hard for him realized they had let down their beloved coach by not pulling out enough of those close games in a 6-10 season.
However, linebacker Brandon Marshall said out loud what was surely on plenty of players' minds in Green Bay, Cleveland, New York, Tampa, Cincinnati, Miami and Phoenix, too.
Asked if the cold reality of the win-or-go-home NFL really hits home on the annual — in Denver it's become biennial — day of reckoning for head coaches, Marshall said:
"I know how everything goes. I've been fired before a bunch of times. One of the saddest days in the NFL is cut day for the 53-man roster. That kind of sets in more. But don't coaches get their full salary regardless? So (shoot). You know what I'm saying? If we're getting fired, I wish we got OUR damn salaries.
"So, it sucks for him," Marshall added. "But he's a good coach. He'll find work. But at least he gets the rest of his money."
In Joseph's case, that's about $6 million, some of which will be offset by the salary he'll earn with his next team.
NFL players have long complained theirs is the only major North American sports league where salaries aren't fully guaranteed, and that's why so many were pleased to see Kirk Cousins sign a three-year contract with the Minnesota Vikings last spring that will pay him $84 million regardless of what happens — like not making the playoffs this year .
In other intriguing takeaways from Week 17, Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Keith Butler apparently was preparing to face Tyler Eifert on Sunday even though the Bengals tight end had been on injured reserve for three months, and reports surfaced that the reason Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown sat out the team's 16-13 victory had nothing to do with a knee injury as reported on game day.
Also, Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette, the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft, has a cloudy future in Florida after his standing with the team reached a new level of unrest.
"Hey, I am ahead of schedule!" Eifert replied on Twitter after the Steelers said they were preparing to face him. "Glad the @Steelers are still thinking about me tho."
On the "Coordinator's Corner" podcast on the Steelers' website, Butler was asked for his thoughts on Eifert, who broke his ankle in September.
"I think he's very good," Butler replied. "I think he's up there. He can get deep on you. He does a good job of catching the ball downfield, all that stuff. So he's going to be a problem for us to cover."
To be fair, Butler might have meant in 2019.
While Butler had a harmless slip, a more serious situation might be brewing with Brown, whom the Steelers said was deactivated Sunday because of a knee injury.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette , citing people it did not name, reported that Brown missed or skipped several team meetings last week after a dispute with Ben Roethlisberger on Wednesday in which he angrily threw a football in the quarterback's direction.
The Post-Gazette reported that Brown showed up at Heinz Field expecting to play despite missing the team's Saturday walk-through and meeting and that he left the stadium at halftime.
In Jacksonville, Florida, the Jaguars informed Fournette that his suspension in November voided the remaining guarantees in his four-year rookie contract, a person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press.
Fournette's standing with the team reached a new level of unrest Sunday and raised speculation about his future with the franchise after he and fellow running back T.J. Yeldon spent most of a 20-3 loss at Houston in the season finale on the bench, disengaged from teammates.
Top executive Tom Coughlin ripped both players for being "disrespectful" and "selfish."
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AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Jacksonville, Florida, contributed to this report.
Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton