The "Black Monday" routine that comes after the conclusion of the NFL season inevitably leads to sweeping changes across the league. The 2020-21 coaching carousel began early this season as both Jon Gruden and Urban Meyer were fired before the end of the season.
A flurry of announcements came in after the final whistle sounded Sunday night and into Tuesday afternoon, leading to seven openings for prospective head coaching candidates.
With the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, and Minnesota Vikings joining Jacksonville and Las Vegas in a search for new leadership, it’s time to evaluate each of the openings for how desirable they are.
Incumbent talent matters, but so does the salary cap, team health, number of draft assets, and current power structure when compiling which jobs are more coveted.
We’ll break it down from seven to one, highlighting the critical factors that each candidate will surely consider.
7. New York Giants
The Giants took their time to make the right decision to fire head coach Joe Judge after general manager Dave Gettleman "retired" Tuesday. It was a clown show at its finest, and the best thing going for the franchise is they have a decent set of defenders to build around.
This job is a massive undertaking.
The Giants need a quarterback, revamped offensive line, and bolstered defense. All while their cap situation is a wreck, with their best-case landing with about $30 million in space. Their best bet might be to sign a stopgap like Marcus Mariota to compete with Daniel Jones or trade a mid-round pick for Jimmy Garoppolo and hope for the best.
The good news is the Giants have several young, quality defenders and two top-10 draft picks to rebuild with. Whether the new regime hits on those picks will go a long way as to whether the Giants can fast-track their rebuild and make this opening look a whole lot more attractive. It's hard to trust at this point after the Giants' organization has been so upside-down since winning their last Super Bowl a decade ago.
6. Minnesota Vikings
After treading water as an average, capped-out team for the last few years, the Minnesota Vikings finally cut the cord on head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman. It's not as if the team was bare of talent, but they were unable to match their best offenses with their premier defenses. The timing was off, and the combination of defensive injuries and offensive inconsistency led to an 8-9 campaign.
While Zimmer and Spielman were solid if unspectacular at their jobs, change was needed for the franchise. It may be time to peddle veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins to the highest bidder and start fresh. He never quite plays as impactful as his excellent raw numbers suggest, and his huge $45 million cap hit in 2022 means it's time to trade or extend him.
Speaking of the salary cap, the Vikings are in a rough spot for the immediate future. Trading Cousins helps tremendously, but this roster is old. Auctioning off high-priced veterans Eric Kendricks, Harrison Smith, Anthony Barr, and Adam Thielen makes sense. But this will lead to a step back in the short term.
The Vikings' ownership generally gives their coaches a good tenure to work with, but the uphill battle here is large. It's not a bad job but the moldable clay can go either way if the rebuild isn't executed correctly.
5. Las Vegas Raiders
On paper, which coach wouldn't want the job with the lone playoff team searching for their next long-term head coach? The Raiders have a beautiful new stadium, over $40 million in cap room, a playoff berth on their resume, and an established veteran quarterback. This job may not even be fully available since interim head coach Rich Bisaccia has earned the opportunity to stay, but others should be wary.
With general manager Mike Mayock already in place and the possibility of losing defensive coordinator Gus Bradley with a new staff, the Raiders have baggage for prospective coaches. Mayock must prove recent draft whiffs weren't on him. And while Derek Carr has been impressive, he's up for a new deal that may double what's already owed to him.
There are massive talent limitations on both sides of the ball despite their playoff berth. A revamp is needed, and their cap space can only fix so much. Also, the Raiders play in the same division as Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert, so competition will always be insanely high.
The lack of long-term clarity with the roster is most concerning. This is a good job that could be great, or quickly deteriorate into something much worse if the overall talent isn't improved.
4. Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins' opening likely comes down to what your thoughts are on Tua Tagovailoa's future or Miami's willingness to trade for Deshaun Watson. Brian Flores was a good coach but clashed with management over key issues. He lost the power struggle and couldn't attract quality offensive assistants, leading to his dismissal.
Miami likes Tagovailoa quite a bit for good reason. Despite his mediocre arm, he's extremely accurate, smart, and mobile. The Dolphins have the most cap space in the league, and a general manager, even as someone who has missed on his share of marquee picks, will spend on fixing the team's biggest weaknesses.
The right coach will love Miami's playoff-ready defense and ability to rebuild the offense. The Dolphins' needs are clear, and the roster is competitive enough to make the playoffs in 2022 with the right coaching and offseason additions.
There's an obvious downside as well. Owner Stephen Ross is already onto his sixth head coach since buying the team and he's clearly aligned with general manager Chris Grier.
Playing nice will be key here, or else the Dolphins could blow it all up at any given moment.
3. Chicago Bears
There's no question the Chicago Bears were among the league's biggest disappointments in 2021. Years of poor roster management and a worsening offensive system caught up to the franchise despite excitement from fans after acquiring quarterback Justin Fields through the draft. The next regime will benefit from the combination of a patient ownership group, a young star quarterback, and a relatively decent roster to revamp.
Chicago's offensive nucleus will feature Fields, running back David Montgomery, and receiver Darnell Mooney. The defense is relatively loaded outside of cornerback. And with $40 million in cap space before cuts and restructures, the Bears can re-sign their free agents and upgrade their line and secondary.
It won't be easy to walk into the NFC North and find instant success though, as promising as Fields and this defense is. The offensive line and receiver positions are lacking high-end talent, and the team has no first-round pick in 2022. This team is not flush with opportunities to miss on their assets.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
No team on this list needs a culture reset as badly as the Jacksonville Jaguars do after just one year under Urban Meyer. The good news is there are some excellent leaders on the market to choose from. They could also reunite with former franchise quarterback Byron Leftwich in a storybook fit.
The Jags are an extremely attractive opening despite their continued dysfunction. Unlike Miami, their dysfunction is usually because ownership is too loyal or blind, not because of the relationship dynamics between parties. Plus, Jacksonville has the 2022 No. 1 to go with 2021 No. 1 pick Trevor Lawrence and about $61 million to spend on improvements.
The future is the best sell for Jacksonville on top of laid-back ownership and community. Lawrence, edge-rusher Josh Allen, and cornerbacks Tyson Campbell and Shaquill Griffin are the best long-term pieces on the roster. There's a lot of room for improvement on both sides of the ball. The right coach can find system fits to plug holes to help now, and draft long-term starters with the bevy of assets the team can afford to acquire through trade-downs.
Lawrence and ownership are massive selling points to any candidate. My best guess is this job goes to either Doug Pederson or Leftwich if the team is willing to fire Trent Baalke.
Either would help turn the tide finally in Duval.
1. Denver Broncos
Was there any doubt as to the Broncos ranking first in openings? Even with ownership in flux, the franchise is in good hands under general manager George Paton. Denver offers fair stability, an excellent win-now roster, and ample assets to go get what is needed most; a franchise quarterback.
With more than $40 million in cap space for 2022 and the team retaining most of their third-ranked defense, the focus this offseason will be solely on a quarterback. This will be a tough offseason for Broncos fans who hate the rumor mill, as the team will surely be linked to Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and any other potential difference-making quarterback. The fans must be willing to accept someone lesser in the event those three go elsewhere or stay where they're at, but also know that Cousins or Matt Ryan is an upgrade nonetheless.
Few rosters have as many young playmakers as the Broncos do. Firing Vic Fangio had to be difficult in the sense they're unlikely to replicate their fantastic defense with just anyone, but it's a gamble that must pay off with a huge offensive boost. This team must score 25 points per game on average to compete instead of the 19 points they averaged per year under Fangio.
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